The Case against (that thing you call) Democracy

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Jason Kuznicki

Jason Kuznicki is a research fellow at the Cato Institute and contributor of Cato Unbound. He's on twitter as JasonKuznicki. His interests include political theory and history.

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  1. Avatar Christopher Carr
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    says:

    I agree with this 100%. It’s much better to admit that democracy is the most egalitarian form of coercion we have than to pretend it’s an end in itself. Democracy is not an end: it’s sloppy and inefficient, but it’s better than anything else we’ve got.

    I guess Winston Churchill was an autocrat, too.Report

  2. Avatar Pierre Corneille
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    says:

    To talk about “democracy” misses the point. We need to talk about what kind of democracy. To merely make this a debate about “democracy” is to include, potentially, any regime that claims to speak for or act on the wishes of “the people.”Report

    • Avatar Will H. in reply to Pierre Corneille
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      says:

      That’s kind of what I as thinking.
      I was thinking of unions in particular.
      At its base, a union is a system of rules. These rules were carried by motion and voted on.
      Now, my home local is in a right to work state. Any of those companies could go non-union at any time.
      My understanding is that, even in states which are not right to work, the companies could go non-union at any time, provided they consent to pay prevailing wage to the replacement workers. (which would be coercion)
      Also, some companies run certain projects as union and others as non-union. So, I don’t see where the coercion is there.

      I was thinking that the courtesy stop is probably the best example of libertarianism that I can think of.
      On the project where I am now, there are some 5600 workers and four parking lots. We have staggered schedules to some extent. But the parking lot is a nightmare.
      But people take turns where traffic converges from two directions.
      The have flagmen there to wave us on to the road. But if they weren’t there, then we would take turns.
      But I’m wondering is maybe courtesy comprises some manner of coercion.Report

  3. Avatar Robert Cheeks
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    says:

    Correct me should I error, but the American form of ‘democracy’ was purposefully designed to be somewhat limited and to work within the framework of federalist general gummint? Having ruthlessly shed our federalist inhibitions in favor of a perverse progressivism, we are left with eighteen year olds electing senators.Report

  4. Avatar E.D. Kain
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    says:

    Okay, so we can probably quote lots of libertarians defending democracy, just as we can quote Hayek saying he prefers a liberal dictatorship. It sort of misses the point either way. What does an ideal libertarian society look like? If we are to draw it out to its logical conclusion, or to its ideal end-point, how much democracy is left? How do libertarians prevent democracy from re-embiggening the state which it will almost certainly do?

    I suppose I see libertarianism as the last little step before anarchy, and anarchists would need a similar mechanism to keep people from acting democratically to form a state. In both instances, I don’t see how this is done short of some serious level of coercion. This is the main point – not whether von Mises has a fondness for democracy because it handles power transfers better than other systems. The point is that in order to really get to an ideal libertarian state you need an enormous amount of anti-democratic coercion. Maybe that’s more ideal than the coercion in our current society – I don’t think so, but it’s a fair point. But you’re dodging that point by saying that it’s “more courageous and more analytically useful simply to admit it, to realize that some coercions may after all be necessary for achieving the ends you prefer, and to recognize that any amount of coercion should give us pause just the same.”

    I never said taxes weren’t coercion, after all. I said that libertarians talk about how coercive they are all the time and other forms of coercion, but rarely do we hear of the sort of coercion necessary to implement a truly libertarian society.

    Of course, libertarians themselves have a huge hodge-podge of views, so this is more of a critique of the use of the term coercion to describe everything other than libertarian society itself than it is a critique of any individual libertarian whether that’s you or von Mises or Ron Paul. Society is always coercive. I don’t see a libertarian society as any less coercive than the one we have now. Just different.Report

    • Avatar Murali in reply to E.D. Kain
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      says:

      I don’t see a libertarian society as any less coercive than the one we have now. Just different.

      Which is why I think that ironically, even though the lens of coercion is useless, there are still important reasons as to why a libertarian society is better, even if it ends up coercively preventing the formation of massive welfare state apparatus.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to E.D. Kain
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      says:

      Okay, so we can probably quote lots of libertarians defending democracy, just as we can quote Hayek saying he prefers a liberal dictatorship. It sort of misses the point either way. What does an ideal libertarian society look like? If we are to draw it out to its logical conclusion, or to its ideal end-point, how much democracy is left?

      One way to answer your questions might be by reading Hayek’s The Political Order of a Free People. In it he recommends a very distinctly representative and democratic government. He also goes to great lengths to explain why democracy is so important.

      Or, as another approach, you could just take two words that you heard someone mention that Hayek once said one time, and leave that as the whole of what you know about Hayek’s views.

      Then you could say what you really felt about libertarians.Report

      • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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        says:

        Oh, and it’s amazing what five minutes and Google gets you. Here’s the full Hayek quote:

        “My personal preference inclines to a liberal dictatorship and not to a democratic government where all liberalism is absent.”

        In other words, given two choices, (a) all democracy, no liberalism and (b) no democracy, all liberalism, Hayek picks (b).

        Given that constraint, anything else would be monstrous.

        John Quiggin, who passes along the quote, makes what is to my mind the fanciful claim that someone who picked (b) would naturally support the regime of Augusto Pinochet. But that’s really neither here nor there.Report

        • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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          says:

          That quote makes it no less appealing. I’m not sure what he means by a non-liberal democracy. A socialist one? Do European socialist-democracies count? Would we prefer Pinochet to Finland?

          Either way, this still doesn’t address my argument about the ideal libertarian state and the coercive nature of that system.Report

        • Avatar Elias Isquith in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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          says:

          Choice (a) is clearly morally superior to choice (b). Choice (a) gives you the option to change minds and make a positive argument for liberalism, something choice (b) does not afford. Hayek’s position was fundamentally authoritarian—democracy was worthwhile for him, but only up to a certain point past which he was more than happy enough to trade it away for dictatorship. I’m going to go out on a limb, btw, and guess that the dictatorship he had in mind was not some magical, heretofore unknown variation in which bloody coercion is not the MO.Report

          • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Elias Isquith
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            says:

            Choice (a) is clearly morally superior to choice (b). Choice (a) gives you the option to change minds and make a positive argument for liberalism, something choice (b) does not afford.

            But two can play at that game. If the autocrat really was a liberal, he would presumably be amenable to instituting democracy, as has frequently happened in the very recent past. Thus both hypotheticals collapse into liberal democracy.

            So let’s work within the constraints of the question. Which one do you pick? An autocracy in which you have civil liberties and personal freedoms, but not those that touch on voting — or a democracy that has unlimited powers, and in which you have no guarantee of civil liberties?

            Both are lousy. One is considerably less lousy.Report

            • Avatar Elias Isquith in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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              says:

              Liberal in this context is clearly relating to economic liberalism, not the American-style use of the word. Again, I think you know this, since you’ve read more than a little of Hayek’s work. And neither of your hypotheticals, for what it’s worth, have ever existed, nor could they ever exist. You’re veering quite closely to pony territory.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Elias Isquith
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                says:

                He would not have excluded economic liberalism, that much is correct.

                But yes, the hypotheticals are of very, very little use. They were posed to him in an interview, as I understand it, and I don’t recall his commenting to the same effect anywhere else.Report

            • Avatar Murali in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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              says:

              An autocracy in which you have civil liberties and personal freedoms, but not those that touch on voting — or a democracy that has unlimited powers, and in which you have no guarantee of civil liberties?

              The autocracy is fundamentally better.Report

        • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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          says:

          My preference is for magic unicorns. Which are every bit as likely as liberal dictatorships.Report

        • Avatar John Quiggin in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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          says:

          Jason omits to mention that the quote in question was given in to a pro-Pinochet newspaper at the height of the dictatorship, during a meeting of the Mont Pelerin Society held in Chile, the location chosen specifically because of Pinochet’s policies. In these circumstances, I don’t think it’s fanciful to read it as an endorsement of the regime rather than as an abstract hypothetical.Report

          • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to John Quiggin
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            says:

            That endorsement would stand or fall with the liberalism of the Pinochet dictatorship.

            If you’re willing to call Pinochet a liberal, then I’m willing to accept that Hayek endorsed him. But not before.Report

            • Avatar John Quiggin in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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              says:

              I don’t call Pinochet a liberal, but Hayek did. The next sentence after the quote you give is “Mi impresión particular es – y esto es válido para Sudamérica – que en Chile, por ejemplo, habrá una transición entre un Gobierno dictatorial y un Gobierno liberal.”
              ‘En el Momento Actual Nuestra Principal Tarea es Limitar el Poder del Gobierno” which translates as
              My impression is particular – and this applies to South America – in Chile, for example, there will be a transition from a dictatorial government to a Liberal government.

              As you can see, Hayek is referring specifically to Chile. His argument (made by quite a few on the right) is that a temporary (17-year!) dictatorship was the price of preserving liberal market institutions.

              The suggestion that Hayek did not endorse the Pinochet regime is a desperation move – you’d be better off admitting that he did and considering how this relates to your onw views.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to John Quiggin
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                says:

                I’m at a disadvantage because I don’t read Spanish.

                But even in your translation, Hayek doesn’t call Pinochet’s government “liberal.” He calls it a “dictatorship,” and he says he expects a transition to liberalism.

                That’s a very different thing.

                Compare: If I said that I expected China to transition to liberalism, would that be an endorsement of the status quo?Report

              • Avatar Elias Isquith in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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                says:

                If you also chose to hold prestigious gatherings in China and advised the leaders of the government of China and said that you think the China of today is definitely better than China’s preceding government? Yes.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Elias Isquith
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                says:

                I see nothing wrong with advising the leaders of a regime on how to reform. Holding meetings on its territory is iffy, depending, I’ll give you that one. It’s not a move I would have made.

                Still, China’s government right now beats the heck out of the Cultural Revolution and the Great Leap Forward. I hadn’t realized it was suspicious to say so. Is it better than the Republic of China? I wouldn’t say that, I don’t think.

                Between Allende and Pinochet, I don’t see a clear winner. Both ruled dictatorially. Much would come down to what Hayek and the rest of the world knew about Pinochet’s specific abuses in 1980, and I admit I don’t know the relevant facts here.Report

              • Avatar Elias Isquith in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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                says:

                Well, the reforms did not concern not torturing and killing people. Which is what we’re really talking about here, right? So, personally, I wouldn’t consider that a notch in his favor.

                I didn’t mean the previous Chinese government as Mao—I meant pre-PRC. Just fwiw.

                For me I just can’t see Allende and Pinochet as remotely similar. I doubt Allende was a saint but he had popular backing, Pinochet did not and remedied this with a campaign of brutal, bloody terror. Just don’t see the equivalence.Report

              • Avatar John Quiggin in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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                says:

                The large-scale murders committed by Pinochet were well known by 1980 when Hayek and others chose to celebrate the regime by holding the MPS meeting there. The only new fact to come out in later years was the extent of Pinochet’s personal corruption, though that could have been predicted from first principles.

                But, now that you’ve stated that Allende’s democratically elected government was as dictatorial as Pinochet’s murderous military regime (presumably because it nationalised the copper industry and similar), there doesn’t seem to be any real distance between you and Hayek, or between the two of you and the claims made by Michael Lind.Report

              • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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                says:

                John, thanks – I wasn’t aware of the timeline. This makes the entire thing even worse, and Hayek’s endorsement all the more troubling.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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                says:

                To the extent that Hayek endorsed or appeared to endorse Pinochet, then, he was simply wrong.

                But still — the evidence you’ve given me is pretty thin. He called Pinochet a dictator and not a liberal… and I’m supposed to accept that this means Pinochet was a dictator and a liberal, and therefore worthy of endorsement? (Has basic logic entirely deserted you people?)

                The Mont Pelerin Society meeting was regrettable, and if Hayek said that Pinochet was better than Allende, then he was clearly wrong about that, too.

                So… could I get a source? I mean, one other than the quote we are discussing, which to my mind does not count as praise for Pinochet?Report

              • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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                says:

                Jason – was the violent suppression of the socialist party in Chile by the rightwing Pinochet government worth the cost? He ostensibly protected liberal economic institutions, but he did so by murdering and torturing a lot of people. Hayek may not have been fully aware of the violence, but surely anyone can be aware that a dictatorship leads to violence (or is born out of it).

                Re: China – I would say the China of today is better than Mao’s China, but I still refuse to lend them any moral ground at all. Theirs is a softer, gentler tyranny than the past Communists, but it’s still an evil government so far as I can tell. The one-child policy is the most pernicious thing I can imagine short of an outright holocaust.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to E.D. Kain
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                says:

                Jason – was the violent suppression of the socialist party in Chile by the rightwing Pinochet government worth the cost?

                No, it was simply wrong. I’m not defending that in the least.

                As should be apparent from this thread, I haven’t given a great deal of thought to the whole Hayek/MPS/Pinochet question. I just haven’t. I’ve read a lot of Hayek, and I find it incomprehensible that someone capable of writing what he wrote would also endorse Pinochet.

                The case that he did rests on two things that I’ve seen so far — the MPS meeting and the newspaper quote. Though I don’t know what role he played in determining the meeting’s venue, I presume he might at least have objected, and his absence could have been damning. Still, many decent groups hold meetings in China today, in part to encourage reform. It is curious that these are not singled out too. Isn’t it?

                But the quote — I just don’t see it. Obviously, one needs to be diplomatic when speaking about a dictator within the dictator’s own country, and I find, in fact, it would take considerable courage to call him “a dictator” in so many words, and then to look forward to a transition to liberalism.Report

              • Avatar John Quiggin in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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                says:

                From his Wikipedia article, he defended Pinochet in a letter to the London Times, which seems to meet all the criteria you want for a second source:

                “Hayek visited Chile a handful of times in the 1970s and 1980s during the government of general Augusto Pinochet and accepted being named Honorary Chairman of the “Centro de Estudios Públicos”, the think tank formed by the economists who transformed Chile into a free market economy. ….

                Hayek’s comments about Chile have drawn criticism from NYU historian Greg Grandin, who brings attention to a letter Hayek published in the London Times in which Hayek reported that he had ‘not been able to find a single person in much-maligned Chile who did not agree that personal freedom was much greater under Pinochet than it had been under Allende.’ “Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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                says:

                Well.

                I certainly would have kept that opinion quiet, even if I had visited Chile and found it to be the case.Report

              • I think objectively speaking, freedom and tyranny don’t necessarily have a perfect inverse proportionality. Freedom and wealth on the other hand, are usually correlated. I’ve seen nothing in this sub-thread that remotely suggests Hayek objectively liked Pinochet and is therefore equal to Hitler as opposed to maybe being a bit too optimistic about the possibilities of the Pinochet regime, as a lot of non-Koch-loving economists were and are about a lot of South American regimes, because there is something about South American regime changes that gets us all giddy inside before they disappoints. Anyone remember Alberto Fujimori?

                Anyways, Noam Chomsky always gives “Hayek liked Pinochet” as his reason to dismiss the guy’s academic ideas, which just seems like ad hominem hackery, which of course no one is guilty of here.Report

      • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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        says:

        Jason, all resentment and personal feelings aside, I rather like most libertarians. The issue of how I feel about libertarians is not at stake here. The issue is one of end goals and the means by which to achieve and sustain them. Make this personal if you like, but it was never meant to be.Report

        • Avatar James K in reply to E.D. Kain
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          says:

          I think the point of frustration here for Jason and I is that is sounds like you’ve decided that libertarianism is one particular thing, and if anyone offers themselves (or major libertarian thinkers) as counter-examples you suggest that’s not really what libertarianism is. Perhaps I don’t understand your point (any clarification would be welcome), but otherwise this sounds like the sort of No True Scotsman that libertarians hear a lot (the general form is “libertarians are dangerous lunatics – they advocate X. But I don’t advocate X. But you’re not really libertarian”).Report

          • Avatar Stillwater in reply to James K
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            says:

            Libertarianism can be viewed as an emotional stance, a vantage point from which to critique the political status quo. Or it can be viewed as a substantive theory of political economy.

            If the former, then no complaints. If the latter, then it seems to me complaints apply.Report

          • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to James K
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            says:

            > I think the point of frustration here for
            > Jason and I is that is sounds like you’ve
            > decided that libertarianism is one
            > particular thing, and if anyone offers
            > themselves (or major libertarian thinkers)
            > as counter-examples you suggest that’s
            > not really what libertarianism is.

            Aside:

            I recognize this is very common. Since I started following this site, I see this about once a week (usually when the Balloon Juice people drive by).

            However, I’ve also noticed that this is very much a pre-reflexive sore point.

            Usually you guys read E.D. with a little more charity. He’s having trouble with practicality, that’s what his last 50- or so posts have really been about.Report

    • Avatar wardsmith in reply to E.D. Kain
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      says:

      A quote from one of my favorite SF authors <a href="http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2011/06/reality-check-1.html#more"Charles Stross

      I’m definitely not a libertarian: economic libertarianism is based on the same reductionist view of human beings as rational economic actors as 19th century classical economics — a drastic over-simplification of human behaviour. Like Communism, Libertarianism is a superficially comprehensive theory of human behaviour that is based on flawed axioms and, if acted upon, would result in either failure or a hellishly unpleasant state of post-industrial feudalism.)

      Like other things, Libertarianism is a thought-model useful as a counterpoint to other thought-models. It can’t survive in “the wild” for exactly the reason Charles alluded to above (bold mine). It does quite well in fiction however where the author can control for messy variables and situational adjustments.Report

      • Avatar Kimmi in reply to wardsmith
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        says:

        pish. I liked Niven’s critique of it — “but what if something goes wrong…?” (it was a short story).

        most every science fiction writer likes libertarianism, but is far too practical to chain himself to ideology.Report

      • Avatar James K in reply to wardsmith
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        says:

        economic libertarianism is based on the same reductionist view of human beings as rational economic actors as 19th century classical economics

        This is not entirely true, the George Mason school of libertarian economics explicitly incorporates irrationality. In fact in The Myth of the Rational Voter Bryan Caplan uses irrationality as an argument in favour of limiting government.Report

  5. Avatar Stillwater
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    says:

    All government is coercive. The issue isn’t whether or not democracy is coercive, it’s what types of coercion are permitted within a democracy/within a libertarian society. For the libertarian, democracy leads to coercive policy – the will of the collective against the rights of the individual. But the electorate is in some sense ‘free’ to advocate and enact those policies.

    On the libertarian view, the will of the people ought to be (and in fact would be) constrained to prevent ‘excess democracy’ from impinging on individual rights. The use of state power, then, will prevent – by force of law, presumably – otherwise free expressions of collective will.

    And this is true even if a majority of people mutually agree to restrict democratic access to policy formation along the lines libertarians suggest.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Stillwater
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      says:

      Good comment, but I would add to this:

      “All government is coercive”

      the any society that lacks government will have its own coercion as well. As I said to JB in the previous post, coercion is not a function of any type of government system. It’s a function of people living together.Report

      • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Tod Kelly
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        says:

        All government is coercive. Absolutely.

        Should we see that as a problem, as something we are concerned about?

        Libertarians say yes. Others generally make excuses or try to wish away the problem.Report

        • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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          says:

          Pish posh. Wish away the problem? Yes, libertarians face the problem head on while *everybody else* is just pissing into the wind.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird in reply to E.D. Kain
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            I wouldn’t say that they piss into the wind as much as overstate the benefits and wave away the very real costs.

            I’d compare to the run-up to the Iraq War.

            Are you someone who believes that the Iraqi People ought to be able to live free or are you objectively pro-Saddam?

            Do you think that we should libertate Iraq or do you think that they should continue to live under Uday and Qusay?

            When there are more forced relocations than opportunities for real dialog between formerly oppressed people in the aftermath… well, it’s not like that that is what the people who supported Freedom *WANTED* to happen.

            Before the fact, the emphasis is on the potential upsides. After the fact, the emphasis is on intentions.

            Whether it be Iraq or extending Daylight Savings Time or extending first dollar health care coverage to absolutely everybody.

            Before the fact, the emphasis is on the potential upsides. After the fact, the emphasis is on intentions.Report

          • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to E.D. Kain
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            says:

            Wish away the problem? Yes, libertarians face the problem head on while *everybody else* is just pissing into the wind.

            When the problem is “coercion,” this is absolutely correct.Report

  6. Avatar Rufus F.
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    says:

    You know, I agree with what everyone’s saying here. I just don’t know how in practice this doesn’t turn into a situation in which, when I want certain ends to be met, I accept that a certain amount of coercion will be necessary but acceptable; but when you want other ends to be met, I accuse you of really pushing for unreasonable coercion. Certainly, we’ve heard that argument hereabouts too.Report

  7. Avatar Elias Isquith
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    says:

    Here is the sum total of times Lind references John Stuart Mill in his piece. Let’s play a game where you show me where the word autocracy pops up:

    Without exception the great thinkers of classical liberalism, like Benjamin Constant, Thomas Babington Macaulay and John Stuart Mill, viewed universal suffrage democracy as a threat to property rights and capitalism. Mill favored educational qualifications for voters, like the “literacy tests” used to disfranchise most blacks and many whites in the South before the 1960s.

    Hmm. I don’t see it. I do see the word in reference to things Hayek said about an actual autocrat; and I see it in the title, which anyone who knows anything about publishing—which, Jason, you certainly do—knows the author almost never writes himself. That’s it.

    This is below your standards, Jason, and it’s somewhat surprising to me that the patent hypocrisy of the charge never crossed your mind.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Elias Isquith
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      says:

      Lind’s claim is that libertarians “apologize for autocracy.”

      He mentions Mill why, then? Do you mean to tell me either (a) it’s not autocratic to disenfranchise a racial minority, by today’s standards, or (b) it’s as irrelevant to his claim as, say, a chocolate cake recipe, and could easily have been left out?

      Either one is facially absurd.Report

      • Avatar Elias Isquith in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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        says:

        If you want to claim that Mill is in favor of autocracy, go right ahead. Lind was using it as an example of the longstanding discomfort with complete democracy. One can make a point that leads up to a larger point but that isn’t the exact same as the larger point. And you’ve not addressed the fact that you misrepresented the quote, as did your co-blogger over at Cato. The degree to which you’ve done this, repeatedly, in response to the Lind article is striking; I guess it really threatens your worldview?Report

        • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Elias Isquith
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          says:

          Using Mill as an example of “longstanding discomfort with complete democracy” is also absurd. For his time, he was at the vanguard of expanding democracy, and was thought quite a radical for the pro-democracy stances he took.Report

        • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Elias Isquith
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          says:

          And you’ve not addressed the fact that you misrepresented the quote, as did your co-blogger over at Cato. The degree to which you’ve done this, repeatedly, in response to the Lind article is striking; I guess it really threatens your worldview?

          Suppose I think you’re a fascist, and I publish to that effect in a major magazine.

          How do you suppose you would feel?

          And they say libertarians are the ones who lack empathy. Wow.Report

          • Avatar Elias Isquith in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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            says:

            Intellectual standards don’t fly out the window because you’re feelings were hurt.

            I believe Hayek was asked to choose between a socialist government established between democratic means, and a liberal (a/k/a neoliberal, economically) one established at the barrel of a gun—he prefers the latter. I don’t think the examples you gave to me were the same as those he chose between.

            And the fact that Mill was at the vanguard doesn’t change the fact that the vanguard was still uncomfortable with complete democracy. In any event, he wasn’t at the vanguard when it came to issues of democracy considering that socialist ideas—with accompanying universal male and female suffrage—had existed in one form or another long before his most influential work. Robert Owen is one example of a high-profile thinker/activist, slightly before Mill’s time, who was in many regards far more radical.Report

            • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Elias Isquith
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              says:

              Intellectual standards don’t fly out the window because you’re feelings were hurt.

              Indeed they don’t, so let’s get back to it, shall we?

              You contend that Mill wasn’t an authoritarian, and that he wasn’t even being singled out for authoritarian tendencies in the Lind piece.

              If that’s the case, then even mentioning Mill was purely extraneous. (Or, indeed, harmful to his case, because by most people’s lights, appreciating Mill makes one much less, not more, of an autocrat.)

              But I’d prefer to read him as if he were trying for some sort of internal consistency. I’d have to admit this is a non-obvious choice, but faced with long stretches of incoherence — or coherence, plus animus toward libertarians, plus with intellectual dishonesty — I picked the latter. It’s what I’m a lot more used to seeing.Report

              • Avatar Elias Isquith in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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                says:

                Jason, do you reject the idea that an ideology can have strains within it that, for some, lead to different conclusions than it does for others?

                Mill is often associated with the libertarian project. While Mill is far more amenable to democracy and American-styled liberalism than Hayek, he too was often uncomfortable with universal democracy, which is evidence of the ambivalence towards democracy that’s long been to one degree or another part of the libertarian intellectual legacy. For Mill it was a small feature, for Hayek it was far more central to his ideology. There cannot be a complete transference between Mill and Hayek—nearly 100 years separate their work.

                This is what I took Lind to be saying. It’s more complicated than “Mill is an authoritarian” which is both not true and much easier to refute and then cite as a reason to dismiss the piece entirely.Report

  8. Avatar jfxgillis
    Ignored
    says:

    Jason:

    If it’s necessary, then imputing moral value to it is meaningless.

    If I chop off your arms with a sword because I’m sick of reading your childish libertarian nonsense on LoOG, that’s evil. If I chop off your arms with a surgical tool because they’re gangrenous and it’s necessary to save your life, that’s not evil. It’s not good, either, except insofar as “saving Jason’s life” is regarded as a creditable moral value.

    “Chopping off arms” and “coercive acquisition of wealth” cannot be determined to be evil based on simply those terms alone even though the obvious, common-sensical but wrong tendency is to believe so at first instance.

    any amount of coercion should give us pause just the same.

    Why? “Just the same” as what? Should any amount of amputation give me concern? When I’m diagnosed with bone cancer and told I’ll be dead in a month if the leg isn’t removed, and probably live another forty years if it is removed, do I stop to ponder the evil the doctor is doing to my leg? The “same” as if some loan shark is threatening the same leg with a chainsaw?Report

    • Avatar James Hanley in reply to jfxgillis
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      says:

      Yes, it should give you concern. Because there are very real costs associated with it, even if the net benefit is positive. That’s precisely why they provide counseling for people who undergo amputations; because it isn’t just a simple, “Great, I’m cancer free and all it cost me was a leg!” Google mastectomy support groups, for example.

      And that’s all Jason’s really saying here, is that sure it may damn well be necessary, but let’s not pretend it doesn’t have some pretty serious costs. And, let’s be damn sure not to amputate any more than necessary.Report

      • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to James Hanley
        Ignored
        says:

        So … we need democracy therapy?Report

      • Avatar jfxgillis in reply to James Hanley
        Ignored
        says:

        James:

        is that sure it may damn well be necessary

        And what mechanism do we use to determine that?Report

        • Avatar James Hanley in reply to jfxgillis
          Ignored
          says:

          jfxgillis,

          I thought your argument was based on the assumption of necessity, but it’s really irrelevant, so I don’t understand why you’re asking that question.

          Set the assumption aside and say, “it’s not necessary to amputate your leg, but you’ll be dead in a month if we don’t.” Then we still ought to have concerns about the effect of amputating that leg–the costs of doing so may be outweighed by the benefits of doing so, but the costs are real and we don’t do well to pretend they aren’t.

          Erik, that last point is really what I’m saying. Call it democratic therapy if you want, but I’m just arguing that accepting (what I think is your) assumption–that democracy is necessary, or at least the most desirable alternative–does not mean we should pretend there aren’t serious costs/problems with it as well. Recognizing them doesn’t mean advocating for something non-democratic; it just means advocating for minimizing those costs.

          My argument in a nutshell is that A) I don’t think you recognize many of the costs of democracy and react to those who do by essentially closing your ears to them; and B) you react to those who would talk about the costs of democracy by accusing them of simply wanting to find an alternative to it, when what they really want is to find the way (in their opinion, of course) to best capture its benefits with minimization of its costs.

          You don’t have to agree with them on any particular dangers, and certainly not on what is the “best” way, but if you misrepresent them and refuse to take seriously the idea that democracy has dangers, then you’re not debating them (us) sincerely.Report

          • Avatar jfxgillis in reply to James Hanley
            Ignored
            says:

            James:

            I thought your argument was based on the assumption of necessity

            It is. But since the assumption seems to have been conceded, I took the next step. We can skip all the folderol we’ve all heard a thousand times before and skip to the chase: If it’s a collective decision about a public good, we’re always going to have a collective mechanism of some kind, whether it’s the Divine Right of Kings or a Quaker Meeting or the Electoral College.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to James Hanley
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        says:

        Is it really that the cost is being denied? (Maybe it is, I find this all a bit too abstract to be truly interesting, so I haven’t really closely read these posts yet.) Or is it just that people are downplaying it because they don’t feel that the cost is anything they much care about? Democracy may feel to you like it’s costing us an arm and a leg, but it may not feel that way to others. Whereas an amputee can decide without reference to anyone else what the loss of his leg means to him.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Michael Drew
          Ignored
          says:

          “You wouldn’t have so many legs if it wasn’t for us and even after we amputate the leg you’ll still have a lot more legs than most people so I don’t see what the big deal is.”

          It’s certainly an analogy that breaks down a lot quicker than most of the ones I like to use.Report

        • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Michael Drew
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          says:

          Michael,

          I think several things are going on.

          1) What seems like a serious cost to one person doesn’t to another. That provides a legitimate point of disagreement.

          2) Sometimes people downplay the costs felt by other people as not being serious enough to worry about. That’s not particularly legitimate; at least not in some cases.

          3) People aren’t always particularly aware of the costs to themselves because the costs tend to be hidden, and are disconnected from the benefits. Taxes aren’t the only cost, of course, but it’s easiest to describe, so let me start there. By bundling our payments to the government into one big lump called taxes, our actual contributions to different programs are hidden, so we don’t really know what we’re paying for services. And the services come to us irrespective of our tax burden. In a market, I can be certain that the benefits of my purchases outweigh my costs, because the payment is directly associated with the item. That’s often, most often, not true in relation to government policy. So let’s say I want national defense–I don’t know what it actually costs me, and I don’t feel that cost directly, so my incentive is to ask for more of it. That’s where the amputee model no longer fits–as you note, “the amputee can decide without reference to anyone else what the loss of his leg means to him.” That’s true in market situations (I can decide without reference to anyone else what a big screen TV means to me), and it can be true in a situation of collective decision-making where the dissatisfied can opt out (“OK, we took a vote, and the group is going to the football game, not Disneyland” “Well, have fun guys, but in that case I think I’ll stay home.”), but it can’t be true in a collective decision-making situation where the dissatisfied cannot opt out.

          Again, that doesn’t mean those latter situations aren’t sometimes necessary (no matter how much I wish they weren’t). It just means that they’re not cost-free, and sometimes the costs are not negligible.

          And in corollary with the non-market benefits mentioned below by Elias, there are non-market costs as well. Generally speaking, we call the “conformity costs.” How do we measure the cost of having to go along with something you don’t approve of? We can’t, but that doesn’t mean it’s not real.Report

          • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to James Hanley
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            says:

            SO part of the cost of non-opt out democracy is that we can’t translate our unique preferences about the value of specific government benefits and the price we’re willing to pay the government for them directly into our preferred policies, bypassing the preferences of other constituents of the democracy, in order to pay only for the services we want, and something like market prices. That’s fair, even if kind of begging the question, since opt-out government doesn’t exist (I agree with libertarians on that). The choice isn’t democracy or some opt-out form of government, it’s coercive government with policies shaped by democracy, or “democracy,” or else some other form of coercive government.

            I do also take your point that this problem starts to hit us in the face the minute the government starts to do… anything.

            Also, as I said, I wasn’t at all challenging the idea of there being costs to democracy (I have always thought they were extensive as well, though perhaps I’m more concerned with ones other than those you are, natch…), or even trying to peg them at some level or other, but merely questioning whether it was accurate to say that people have been denying the costs outright. So you didn’t really have to defend the idea to me, but your response was helpful nonetheless.Report

            • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Michael Drew
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              says:

              Michael,

              That’s a very fair summary. I’d quibble that by expressing it as being about “value of specific government benefits and the price we’re willing to pay the government for them” you’re assuming more than I’d assume, because in each specific case the question is whether it should be a government policy. And while that’s something of a quibble, I’d argue that it’s precisely why I am not begging the question–given that government is necessarily non-opt-out, the question is “which things should be market based and which should be government policy.” And all I am saying is that because of the non-opt-out nature of government, market-based solutions are preferable (because non-coercive) if they will work in the specific situation under consideration.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to James Hanley
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                says:

                I think this points to what I wrote below. I’m not really seeing where you expect those determinations to be made other than in democratic institutions, so I think I’m missing the “cost of democracy… as opposed to what?” part of your argument. It seems to me what you are doing here just amounts to making a policy argument about what we should do with our democracy, not an argument about the cost of democracy compared to some other system. Because you seem to be taking for granted that these decisions (not just how to do things that you think the government should be doing, but what to do, including possibly doing things you think it shouldn’t…) are going to be made in a democracy in our case, and also, I think, that you think they should be as a general matter as well. But if not, then what? And if democracy can’t come out the way you want as to what it attempts to do, and if this is a cost, but if it’s not a cost as relates some other system that may have lower costs in that regard but higher ones in others, but rather just inherently in itself, then I’m not really clear what you are arguing. Every system has costs, benefits, and inefficiencies. Does it make sense to say that something has costs that are high, or non-negligible, or not dismissible, or anything other than simply existing, but not in comparison to anything else?Report

    • Avatar Stillwater in reply to jfxgillis
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      says:

      This is an awesome comment. And in my view exactly right.Report

  9. Avatar James Hanley
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    says:

    What I think is missing in all this discussion is a good bit of public choice theory. Because one of the areas of criticism of democracy is how badly it can, in practice, represent the real preferences of the public. It sounds all well and good to say, “the public spoke,” or “the public wants,” but democracy doesn’t actually give us a good way to measure what “the public” wants.

    In a democracy we too often have a choice of two alternatives, while the number of competing preferences is greater than 2. This means it’s not hard to have a policy that actually is the real preference of only a minority.

    Democracy often promotes the concentration of benefits and the dispersion of costs. If I can persuade the government to give me $10 million of taxpayer’s money, for no good reason other than that my Senator wants my goodwill and is willing to trade votes with other Senators who are seeking the good will of their constituents, I’m vastly better off at everyone else’s expense. But none of you have any good incentive to try to put an end to that because it costs each of you less than the price of a postage stamp. And that gets repeated ad nauseum throughout the system.

    And to the extent we demand transfer payments as part of our policies, most of those transfer payments are transferred within the middle class. It’s like taxing 10 people in a room $1, then handing $9 to one of them (while keeping $1 as the cost of the service). Then tax them each $1 again, giving $9 to the next person, and so on. At the end, they’ve each received a nice transfer payment, but they’re not actually better off.

    Worse, we all insist on getting our transfer payments but eliminating taxes on ourselves. Because democracy depends on keeping the public happy, the incentive is to persuade them they can be made well off without paying for it–nobody objects to paying lower taxes, and nobody objects to receiving more benefits, but everybody objects to paying higher taxes or receiving future benefits. If you’re a rational politician, no matter how well-intended, what do you do?

    And because political solutions are non-market solutions, we don’t actually have a way to calculate the costs and benefits, in terms of the collective valuation of the public (if we could actually collect and add up each individual’s valuations). So we too often end up overpaying for the solutions we get. That’s inevitable, and it’s no less true in an autocracy, so it’s no reason to dump democracy in favor of an authoritarian government. But it is a reason to be skeptical of democracy, and to favor market solutions–including privatization and competitive bidding for services–as much as can possibly be done.

    In the end, the primary virtue of democracy is not that it provides good government. There’s no guarantee it will, and it’s hard to objectively measure such a thing because liberals, conservatives, libertarians, and Greens all disagree on what good government would look like. The primary virtue of democracy is that it helps us weed out the worst by giving us repeated chances to unseat them. Even if we get some pretty lousy characters in our system, we don’t get Stalins, Husseins, and Qadaffis; or if we do, we get rid of them before they can do too much damage. That’s a pretty damned good virtue, but somehow people don’t seem to see it as enough.

    I just can’t help but think that the visceral reaction to criticism of democracy is based on a sort of romanticization of its virtues–a belief that it’s not just sometimes regrettably necessary to engage in coercive collective-decision making, but that somehow democracy is likely to lead to really good collective decisions. But I haven’t seen anybody argue for the mechanism in democracy that would make that possible.Report

    • Avatar Elias Isquith in reply to James Hanley
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      says:

      1. You’re confusing America’s political system with democracy. Democracy comes in many forms, many of which are not bi-polar.

      2. Not everyone wants everything in life to be treated as if it were economics, with material values measured and cost/benefit models sanctified. There are other aspects of human life, both individualistic and communitarian, that are not so easily quantified.

      3. For all the BS scaremongering I’ve heard over the years about craven politicians using the state’s coffers to buy off the mob, it strikes me that from day 1 of the United States, the rich and well-connected have overwhelmingly held power. It’s a nonsense argument divorced from anything besides its own fancy.

      4. The advent of people wanting services without being willing to pay taxes is just that—new. It is, again, a sign of ignorance to assume the political culture of the US today has been the same throughout. It wasn’t until relatively recently, not coincidentally parallel to the rise of neoclassic political economy, that the public has begun to view taxation as an evil in and of itself.

      5. But perhaps you’re right and anyone who disagrees is simply a cloudy-eyed romantic unwilling to face up to the realities like you are. Despite the many things you seem not to understand about democracy, US history, or human nature, it’s certainly possible that you’ve nonetheless discovered the Ultimate Truth—which, if I understand libertarianism correctly, is real and attainable, right?Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Elias Isquith
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        says:

        Elias,
        You’re confusing America’s political system with democracy. Democracy comes in many forms, many of which are not bi-polar.
        No, I’m not, although I understand how my words leave that impression. Even in parliamentary systems, policy votes always come down to a basic either/or.

        Not everyone wants everything in life to be treated as if it were economics, with material values measured and cost/benefit models sanctified. There are other aspects of human life, both individualistic and communitarian, that are not so easily quantified.
        Nevertheless, cost/benefit decisions must be made about those things, because no individual can satisfy all his/her desires simultaneously, and no group can satisfy all individuals’ desires simultaneously. That is the fundamental economic problem, so to say we don’t want it to be treated as economic is to misunderstand what economics is really about. It ain’t about market values per se; it’s about tradeoffs between values; even ones that can’t be allocated well in a market system. And in the end, to say “I don’t want this value to be accounted for in a cost/benefit calculation” is just an effort to privilege it by making all other values subordinate to it. You’re still engaging in an implicit cost/benefit process; you’re just not admitting it or being explicit about the assumptions in the model.

        As to 3, I didn’t argue they didn’t. I just noted that most transfer payments to the middle class tended to come from the middle class. Hell, if anything that supports your point–the middle class isn’t getting their bennies from the rich, so they’re not actually getting any better off.

        The advent of people wanting services without being willing to pay taxes is just that—new.
        No, it’s not. Read de Tocqueville. And pay attention to what those rich people have been doing all along.

        it’s certainly possible that you’ve nonetheless discovered the Ultimate Truth—which, if I understand libertarianism correctly, is real and attainable, right?
        And this is what I mean by the “visceral reaction to the criticism of democracy.” What had been a reasonable critique goes off the rails. Read my penultimate paragraph, then think again.Report

        • Avatar Elias Isquith in reply to James Hanley
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          says:

          Rich people today vote for social services to be cut. Rich people in 18th and 19th centuries complained about being taxed for war. Neither example is relevant to your argument. My reaction was pointed not because democracy is holy, but rather because your arguments are weak and offered with a breezy self-assurance that thus far seems entirely unwarranted.Report

          • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Elias Isquith
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            says:

            Rich people today vote for social services to be cut. Rich people in 18th and 19th centuries complained about being taxed for war.
            The rich people in the 19th century didn’t complain about what didn’t exist at the time? How noble of them. Of course they did tend to vigorously object to the creation of social services for the unwashed masses. But again, that is in no way a rebuttal of my argument. I’m not sure why you think it is.

            your arguments are weak

            Really? Then it shouldn’t be hard for you to actually refute them, rather than sliding around them. Explain to me how democracy satisfactorily satisfies competing values; show me how it manages to avoid treating competing values in a cost-benefit analysis, whether explicit or implicit.Report

            • Avatar Elias Isquith in reply to James Hanley
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              says:

              One cannot refute arguments that are faith-based and non-empirical in nature, especially not when they’re built upon fantastical generalities with no relation to history or reality. Plus I’ve been around the block long enough to know I’m wasting my time when it comes to dealing with libertarian ideologues.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Elias Isquith
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                says:

                And here again we see the “visceral reaction to criticisms of democracy.” Mr. Isquith is not interested in a sincere debate. Despite there being a whole field of study dedicated to studying the concept of political failure (public choice theory), with volumes upon volumes of both theoretical and empirical research, he prefers to simplistically reject the arguments as “faith-based” “fantastical generalities,” rather than actually make the effort to deal sincerely with them.

                OK, so historical examples. A) How many Obama supporters voted for him on the basis that he would claim the power to kill U.S. citizens without due process? B) How many people in the U.S. value the the Big Dig in Boston at its actual cost? C) How is it that Archer Daniels Midland makes most of their profit by getting government to rig the market for them. D) How many Americans, even the ones who want a strong national defense, would vote for the current size of the U.S. military budget if they had to write a check to the government specifically to cover their share of it?

                I could go on….Report

              • Avatar Elias Isquith in reply to James Hanley
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                says:

                Once again you conflate the dysfunction and corruption of the American system of 2011 with democracy itself. I’ve already addressed the stupidity of this position. Otherwise, you’re moving around like a worm in a puddle after a terrible storm—your claims to know something about Mississippi state politics in 1920s, or what “the rich” during Tocqueville’s time were quickly abandoned or buttressed with even more airy and unsubstantial generalities. If you’d like to restrict the conversation from here on out to public choice theory, then that’s fine—go ahead and actually make an argument on those terms. Otherwise I’m eventually going to start listening to the wiser part of my brain that says I’m running on a treadmill when it comes to dealing with you.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Elias Isquith
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                says:

                Once again you conflate the dysfunction and corruption of the American system of 2011 with democracy itself.

                Oh, so will you please tell me how wide a range of examples I need to make the point? The way you’re attempting to rebut me, you could take any example and say, “you’re conflating the X country’s system of XXXX with democracy.” That’s pretty clever, because then you never actually have to rebut any arguments. And how specific examples become “unsubstantial generalities” is a mystery, but you’ve covered your bases well–you’ve preemptively rejected both theoretical explanations and empirical examples.

                In other words, you’ve closed yourself off to any evidence that might challenge your beliefs.

                I’ve already addressed the stupidity of this position.
                No, you haven’t. You’ve already failed to actually address it. But if you’re bound and determined to substitute insults for analysis, I’ll just once again note that this is exactly what I mean by “visceral reaction.”

                I’ll leave it there. I see no value in continuing a discussion with someone so determined to avoid an honest debate.Report

              • Avatar MFarmer in reply to James Hanley
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                says:

                There is clearly an emotional reaction from some here who are aggravated by the critique of democracy — it seems they would rather avoid the uncomfortable consequences of their beliefs and, instead, praise a vague and unexamined idea of democracy that feels righteous to them.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Elias Isquith
        Ignored
        says:

        For all the BS scaremongering I’ve heard over the years about craven politicians using the state’s coffers to buy off the mob,

        For most of the first 100 years of the USA, they just used Indian lands. Worked pretty well too. When that ran out, then they turned to Bismark’s model.Report

        • Avatar Elias Isquith in reply to Kolohe
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          says:

          There was nothing economically unsustainable about colonization or the paltry social security system as first established. The whole construct James was awkwardly trying to cite is most readily found in examples like Huey Long or George Wallace two mean long dead from a political era long since passed.Report

          • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Elias Isquith
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            says:

            The whole construct James was awkwardly trying to cite is most readily found in examples like Huey Long or George Wallace two mean long dead from a political era long since passed.
            There you go. You rejected prior examples as being too 2011, and now you reject these examples as from being too pre-2011. Is any further evidence needed of your intellectual dishonesty in this matter?Report

            • Avatar Elias Isquith in reply to James Hanley
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              says:

              Again, this is not endemic to democracy but rather to American politics. Democracy exists in dozens of countries throughout the world, and in many of them it exists in a more vibrant and less corrupted form than it does here. Even if we were to grant your ignorant and narrow understanding of the idea of democracy, however, your argument would still be worth about as much as a cup of spit since what you’ve offered is completely anecdotal and not even coherent. You’re asking us to accept that the military industrial complex and Huey Long are all part of…something…that means…something. It’s nonsense.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Elias Isquith
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                says:

                Yes, Mr. Isquith, democracy in all other countries runs perfectly and has no pathologies. I’m sure you’ve studied them all quite closely and can demonstrate that. For instance, in Japan the democratic processes never resulted in the government requiring banks to make loans that would never be paid back to government-favored businesses. In France the democratic process never leads to government protecting the agricultural sector against the interests of the rest of the country. In Turkey it never leads to the danger of religious tyranny. In Israel it never leads to territorial expansion in exchange for votes. In Pakistan it’s never led to the concealment and protection of terrorists. Nope. In the U.S. democracy’s corrupted through and through, but everywhere else it’s working ideally.

                You’ve offered no evidence, Mr. Esquith. You’ve offered nothing beyond, “that’s stoooopid, you’re a idiot.” Your argumentative approach so far has remained resolutely adolescent. You sound offended, but you don’t sound like you have an argument. Read the critiques above by Stillwater and Michael Drews to see how what an intelligent argument looks like.Report

              • Avatar Ben Wolf in reply to James Hanley
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                says:

                He never said democracies in other countries ran “perfectly”: you did, and it’s your repeated efforts to attack a straw man that force me to conclude you have no empirical argument. Such a waste.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Ben Wolf
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                says:

                Ben,

                He has twice refuted my arguments that democracy suffers from these intrinsic flaws by stating that the U.S. is an exception. That means these other democracies don’t suffer from those intrinsic flaws. There’s no straw man–he set up the claim that democracy’s pathologies are intrinsic to the U.S., but not (at least most) other democracies, so it was perfectly legitimate to attack him on those grounds.

                Do you have an actual substantive rebuttal, or are you going to dodge the real issues, too?Report

              • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to Elias Isquith
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                says:

                > This is not endemic to democracy
                > but rather to American politics.

                Er, Elias?

                In my opinion, you’re wrong on this score. Sayeth the systems theory guy.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Pat Cahalan
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                says:

                Pat,

                I always explain to my students that there’s no such thing as a perfect system, so they need to stop comparing real systems with ideal systems and condemning the real system on those grounds (although of course an ideal can help us understand what to strive for).

                I’m not really a systems-theory guy, but I am an institutions guy, which is closely related.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to James Hanley
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                says:

                There are systems that are close enough to perfect not to matter in human time scales.

                The mechanics of the solar system, say. Pretty sure the Earth will keep on truckin’ on its proposed orbit for the near future, for reasonably freakin’ huge values of “near”.

                Everything else isn’t closed enough, relative to the members and properties. Certainly, all human systems are open and messy.

                I don’t want to get into “the perfect is the enemy of the good” territory, but “at some point, this shit is going to break” ought to be acknowledged.

                On the other hand, you and Elias (on this thread at least) have wasted a bit too much time thumbing each other in the eye. Which is really odd, because I would think he would be on board with the original comment about public choice theory.

                I mean, I don’t have too much of a problem with this: “Worse, we all insist on getting our transfer payments but eliminating taxes on ourselves. ” That seems pretty self evident in the general case. I think you can take issue with it, though, and stake out a nuanced contrary position.

                I also agree somewhat with this… “And because political solutions are non-market solutions, we don’t actually have a way to calculate the costs and benefits, in terms of the collective valuation of the public (if we could actually collect and add up each individual’s valuations). So we too often end up overpaying for the solutions we get.” … I think there’s plenty of ground in there to fight over, too. Reasonably.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Patrick Cahalan
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                says:

                I’ll defend Elias on at least this one point: that there is something unique about US political corruption. But I don’t think the idea can be demonstrated by appealing to a relative lack of corruption in other countries. I think, instead, that the reflexive, ingrained deification of capitalism and money generally within the US makes corruption more easily acceptable. Or less noticeably corrupt, as it were.

                Corruption is something Americans expect to happen, and are pretty helpless to prevent. I don’t think that’s true (or as true) in lots of other western democracies.Report

              • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to Patrick Cahalan
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                says:

                More unique than Italy?

                How about Bolivia?Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Patrick Cahalan
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                says:

                I’m sticking to my guns on this Patrick. No matter how many countries you want to cite. Even ones without fascist roots.Report

              • Avatar James K in reply to Patrick Cahalan
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                says:

                Stillwater:
                According to Transparency International, the US is the 22nd least corrupt country on earth, a rank it shares with Belgium. It is less corrupt than France, Israel and South Korea. That’s not what I’d call uniquely corrupt.

                The US is the most corrupt Anglosphere country though – the UK is 20th least corrupt, Australia’s 8th, Canada’s 6th and New Zealand is 1st.

                I think you’re right though that cultural tolerance has a lot to do with corruption. But I’m not sure that praise for the almighty dollar is the motivating force. For one thing communism is the most efficient breeder of corruption known to exist, while (mostly) capitalistic Singapore is tied with New Zealand and Denmark as the least corrupt countries on earth.

                I really don’t know why your country is more corrupt than its closest kin, but I’ve been testing a hypothesis about size and corruption, and I may make a post about it later this week.Report

              • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to Patrick Cahalan
                Ignored
                says:

                Corruption is the wrong word and the wrong way to think about this. The problem in the US is not corruption, it’s the overwhelming amount of non-corrupt money spent in politics and the lack of accountability held by either private actors or politicians for their actions. So we can spend enormous amounts of money to elect and then influence a senator, but then that senator can for all intents and purposes remain unaccountable for the foibles of their institution thanks to the filibuster, secret holds, etc. etc. etc. The system is broken whether or not it’s particularly corrupt. Oh, and the consequences of legal revolving door activity are bigger here because we are powerful and rich.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Patrick Cahalan
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                says:

                Damn, wrong on both counts!

                Knowing how corrupt the US is I’m not sure to what extent our ranking counts as good news.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Patrick Cahalan
                Ignored
                says:

                Thanks ED. I knew there was a way to bring the issue back to life. What would be called ‘corruption’ in other countries is called ‘legal’ in the US.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Patrick Cahalan
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                says:

                You want to talk about corrupt democracy, go talk to the Lebanese. We’re paradise compared to them.

                And non-corruption in any country’s democracy is a long hard-fought process. You think the U.S. is corrupt now, just look at earlier eras (or look at Illinois, which is still playing the game of that earlier era).

                There’s a natural tendency toward corruption in government–including in democracy–because there are people who are willing to do anything for power. The more power you allow that government, the greater the temptation, and the greater the potential harm.

                Re: ED’s point about unaccountable politicians. He’s partly right, and to the extent he is that’s a side effect of our insistence on having geographic representation instead of going with a stronger party system. We imagine to ourselves that making the politicians represent a more localized district means more local control over them, but in practice it often means they’re running little fiefdoms. A generalized “throw the bums out” movement works great when people are mad at a party and the party is collectively punished; but doesn’t work so well when folks are saying, “well, all the others are bums, but my guy’s ok.”

                And that’s the point where E.D. is not wholly correct. Because these politicians do, for the most part, have to keep their constituents relatively satisfied. And the deeper problem is that constituents too often tend to accept their own guy’s corruption, as long as he’s on the right side–because (and this is especially true for gerrymandered districts) that person’s use of filibusters, secret holds, etc., tends to be done against policies that a majority of that person’s constituents object to.

                What most of us are really mad about is how terrible other people’s representatives are. And when we think our own representatives are horrible, we’re usually a liberal in a conservative district or a conservative in a liberal district (or a libertarian in damn near any district).Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Patrick Cahalan
                Ignored
                says:

                the overwhelming amount of non-corrupt money spent in politics and the lack of accountability held by either private actors or politicians for their actions

                E.D., To clarify, are you saying that the money spent creates lack of accountability to voters? Because one interpretation of that–which I a confident you didn’t mean–is a complaint that bought politicians don’t stay bought. I know that’s not what you meant, but the specific implication of what you did mean is not quite clear to me.

                I would add that the money is inevitable given the structure of our system, where we have so many individual races. I’m dubious about calling it, or even implying, that it constitutes corruption. Notably, for example, the most money tends to flow to the most competitive races, whereas races in very safe districts normally see less spending (not that the folks holding those seats have any difficulty fundraising). Since on the whole I think competitive districts are better than non-competitive ones, I don’t see a solution to the issue of how much money gets spent.

                It takes a lot of money to create a good organization and, especially for a challenger, to let the public know who you are. Take away the vast amounts of money and you increase the incumbency advantage (campaign spending limits and public financing also increase incumbency advantage, because in general challengers need to be able to spend more to have a realistic chance of victory). Require free newspaper and advertising time and you’re simply pushing the costs of campaigns onto other private parties. Limitations on third-party spending is limitations on the effectiveness of individuals’ political speech.

                Shifting to a real party-based system would diminish how much money is demanded because it’s the parties that need to be known, and they’re normally already a known quantity–there’s no need to introduce the public to hundreds of new candidates every two years. But the tradeoff is, some degree–perhaps very large, depending on the structure of the system–of diminishment of geographic representation.Report

              • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to Patrick Cahalan
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                says:

                James – no, I don’t think money in and of itself creates a lack of accountability. It’s one piece of the puzzle. It exacerbates other flaws within our system.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Patrick Cahalan
                Ignored
                says:

                It [money] exacerbates other flaws within our system

                Please don’t take it badly if I press you on this a little. I can’t say you’re wrong, because that’s a little too vague for me to point to anything necessarily wrong or right in it. And I’ve had plenty of people say similar things to me, but not be able to clearly explain just how they think this exacerbation happens: what flaws specifically are exacerbated, and the mechanism by which money exacerbates them.

                Would you be willing to consider a full post on that topic at some point? I wouldn’t ask for you to cover the whole range of conceivable problems, but perhaps point to a couple and show specifically how money exacerbates them?

                I ask because my gut inclination–and it’s not a fully worked out argument by any means–is that it’s the problems that exacerbate the money, much more than the other way around. But I can’t, and won’t, state that as a definite claim, and I’m interested in hearing a more developed counter-claim.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Patrick Cahalan
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                says:

                yawn. blackmail concerns me more than free flow of money. blackmail’s more predictable, and easier to achieve, so of course corporations go for it.Report

              • I find this sub-thread to be fairly incoherent. Communism, in the sense of being Marxist, has to be the least corrupt ideology in the sense that true communism distributes power evenly throughout the populus. That’s why that David Harvey RSA video ends with his incredulity over the term “systemic risk”, because that’s basically what the Marxists have been saying since Marx, and like, why are the capitalists only getting it now, and without even attributing it to its proper source?

                I’m also going to be the one here to espouse some weak-sauce cultural relativism. There’s a brilliant scene in Rome where King Herod offers Mark Antony a “gift” because it is not customary to openly offer bribes in Roman culture. Anyone here ever done business in Asia? It’s one “corruption” after another. The heathens!

                “Corruption” is a meaningless word when applied to several cultures. It only makes sense <given the established rules of a particular nation. In the U.S., it’s not corruption that matters here so much as it is people responding to perverse incentives.

                This is what bothers me so much about the anti-corporate/CSR crowd and why Milton Friedman was right. Corporations are revenue-maximizing machines. They must do nothing but respond to incentives. If you have wishy-washy governance, you have no incentives, and you have nothing. If you have foolish governance, you have perverse incentives. Right now we have foolish – not corrupt – governance. The government is not evil. It’s incompetent!Report

  10. Avatar Tom Van Dyke
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    says:

    Rep. Paul Ryan [R-WI] reviews pointy-headed lefty prof’s book. Very cool.

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424053111903703604576589090204327736.html?mod=WSJ_article_comments#articleTabs%3Darticle

    Rather unprecedented, at least in recent memory: a representative of the real world of politics rolls up his sleeves to clean the stables of abstract theory. [I recall Mr. Kelly wishing for this sort of thing awhile back.]

    Key grafs:

    For, ultimately, Mr. Sachs’s quarrel is with our founding principles of equality and liberty. Underlying the arguments in “The Price of Civilization” is a contention that the Constitution is too conducive to freedom, that it endorses an economic system too friendly to growth and the satisfaction of appetite, that it creates political institutions too inattentive to our national character.

    In his first inaugural address, Thomas Jefferson defined “a wise and frugal Government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned.” The contrast with Mr. Sachs’s idea of “good government” could not be more stark.Report

    • Avatar MFarmer in reply to Tom Van Dyke
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      says:

      “In his first inaugural address, Thomas Jefferson defined “a wise and frugal Government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned.” The contrast with Mr. Sachs’s idea of “good government” could not be more stark.”

      This is goes to the heart of libertarian philosophy which was an offshoot of classical liberalism. This is what the critics of libertarianism have to refute if they are hoenst, which some of them do refute by saying collective needs override individual rights, but the other smears, such as apathy towards suffering or accusing libertarians of proposing their own form of coercion or being shills for the Koch brothers, are diversions.Report

      • Avatar Ben Wolf in reply to MFarmer
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        says:

        Of course Jefferson opposed taxation on labor: he and his father before him became wealthy by stealing the labor of their slaves. It wasn’t in his personal interests to see that labor diverted to the public good. It never ceases to shock me how quickly and repeatedly the right forgets Jefferson was a racist aristocrat looking out for the concerns of others just like him. I agree the man had some wisdom, but to treat him like a secular saint whose every utterance must be taken as canon is beyond silly.Report

        • Avatar MFarmer in reply to Ben Wolf
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          says:

          Who in the hell is treating him like a secular saint? Your reaction is emotional and off-point. I was referring to the ideas he articulated in the above quote, and not once did I praise the individual named Thomas Jefferson. I personally don’t give a shit about his personal flaws — it’s the ideas I care about, and if he didn’t implement the ideas consistently, then that’s on him, but it says nothing about the ideas per se. You need to control yuou emotional outbursts — they cause you to lose sight of topic. Demonizing Jefferson doesn’t negate the validity of the principles.Report

        • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Ben Wolf
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          says:

          So nothing that Thomas Jefferson did or said or wrote can ever have any intellectual validity because slavery, the end.

          You should read up on the reprehensible behavior of some of the other Founding Fathers. It will blow your mind.Report

          • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to DensityDuck
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            says:

            It’s the new meme, DD. The Founders are out completely because of slavery. It’s a brave new world. The Constitution not only lives, it breathes, devours, and does handstands on command.Report

            • Avatar Ben Wolf in reply to Tom Van Dyke
              Ignored
              says:

              You read, but you don’t listen. Jefferson’s position on direct taxation is at question because theft of labor enriched him. Of course he wouldn’t want a tax on income. I wrote nothing else about Jefferson, nor did I say everything the Founders ever said should be disregarded because of slavery, but you let your emotions get the better of you. Disappointing.Report

          • Avatar Ben Wolf in reply to DensityDuck
            Ignored
            says:

            You didn’t bother to read the entire post, did you? Perhaps the part where I wrote that Jefferson had some wisdom was written in invisible electrons.Report

      • Avatar Ben Wolf in reply to MFarmer
        Ignored
        says:

        “‘In his first inaugural address, Thomas Jefferson defined “a wise and frugal Government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned.” The contrast with Mr. Sachs’s idea of “good government” could not be more stark.’
        This is what the critics of libertarianism have to refute if they are hoenst”

        You assume that anyone critical of libertarianism simply MUST refute Jefferson. Why? You claim Jefferson isn’t a secular saint, but you present prose from the man as though it represents objective truth. No one “has” to refute Jefferson’s grandiose, non-empirical opinions because they are just that.Report

        • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to Ben Wolf
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          says:

          For the record, I’m not a fan of Jefferson the man. He had some good arguments, though, and the Founding era had the benefit of a blank slate, perhaps the blankest in all of man’s history. Hence they were able to confront the grand questions with less baggage than we.Report

        • Avatar MFarmer in reply to Ben Wolf
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          says:

          Let’s forget Jefferson said it, and just consider the ideas. Now that we are past that, I’m saying that to refute my ideas as a libertarian, you must refute the basic ideas in the quote above. Okay? Jefferson is gone — just the ideas remain. Are we cool now? No words from saint, just the ideas.Report

  11. Avatar Stillwater
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    says:

    Explain to me how democracy satisfactorily satisfies competing values

    Doesn’t this entirely beg the question? What would the alternative be? – actuaries and accountants pushing pencils? It’s not democracy that settles the question, but democracy consistent with basic rights.

    show me how it manages to avoid treating competing values in a cost-benefit analysis, whether explicit or implicit.

    This is a most unusual complaint against democracy – that it’s rational or even attempts to be. It isn’t. The more libertarian friendly argument ought to be that it doesn’t treat competing values according to a cost-benefit analysis.

    Or of course, maybe I’m confused about what you’re arguing here.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Stillwater
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      says:

      Doesn’t this entirely beg the question? What would the alternative be? –

      Markets, whenever they are possible, do the best job at satisfying competing values. And I think markets are possible in more situations than most liberals do. (Then again, liberals sometimes agree with me about allowing markets in cases where conservatives don’t, such as for abortions and marijuana).

      But I don’t think that everything can be solved by markets, so some government is necessary, and in that case I normally want it to be democratic government. But because it can’t satisfactorily satisfy competing values, I want it to be strictly limited to those cases where we can’t functionally do without it.

      Regarding your second question, I want to put the emphasis on “implicit.” There is always at least an implicit cost-benefit calculation. Just because there is no explicit accounting of the costs and benefits doesn’t mean no such accounting–often in a very rough, imprecise, and skewed way–is going on. So my libertarian complaint is not that democracy “doesn’t” treat competing values in a cost-benefit analysis, but that it expressly avoids being clear about the valuations.

      My critique is also that democracy necessarily requires us to compute my benefits vs. your costs, which is very different from you computing your own benefits vs. your own costs. As I said, sometimes it can’t be avoided. But if we ignore that problem, or treat it as irrelevant, we are likely to to advocate democratic solutions to more issues than I think is wise.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley
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        says:

        P.S., Stillwater, I hope that clears up the confusion a bit. I find that people are generally confused when I make this argument. Either the argument is far less obvious than it seems to me or I do a lousy job of explaining it. Or, my preferred alternative, it’s both fairly obvious and I do a great job of explaining it; it’s just so at odds with everything we learned in K-12 about the glories of democracy that it causes a substantial level of cognitive dissonance. Fortunately for me, I’ve distrusted democracy ever since I lost the election for 4th grade class president. *grin*Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to James Hanley
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        says:

        Markets, whenever they are possible, do the best job at satisfying competing values.

        But here’s what I’d say in response: that a broadly democratic system for determining policy, in which differing views consistent with basic constitutional rights and provisions, is in effect a market of political ideas. People advocate for policy – even bad policy – that isn’t precluded from being enacted by any ideological constraints other constitutional provisions. Isn’t that preferable to imposing, or limiting, views which have been predetermined to be consistent with a set of permissible outcomes?

        My critique is also that democracy necessarily requires us to compute my benefits vs. your costs,

        I don’t think this is a constraint on democracy, but on the justification of democratically determined policy given a preferred – and weighted! – metric presupposed by a particular political theory. There are lots of political theories, and policies which devolve from them, consistent with basic rights, the harm principle.Report

        • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Stillwater
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          says:

          I really need to not watch football while trying comment.

          Unless EDK were to get us an edit function. ?? !!Report

        • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Stillwater
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          says:

          Stillwater,
          a broadly democratic system for determining policy, in which differing views consistent with basic constitutional rights and provisions, is in effect a market of political ideas.

          But the important difference is that in a real market the dissenter doesn’t have to buy the product everyone else wants. It doesn’t matter that the I-Phone is apparently what everyone wants now (based on a casual survey of my students); those of us who don’t want one don’t have to pay for them. I’m all for a marketplace of ideas, but it’s a bit of a stretch when what we’re really talking about is a marketplace of policies–where in the end we all have to buy what the majority likes.

          On the other hand, I’m all in favor of a marketplace of governments providing alternative policies, so that I can choose the policy mix that is most suited to me. I.e., federalism, in a more extensive form than it currently exists in the U.S. Hopefully there would be a nice libertarian leaning state with mountains and rivers and four seasons, for me, and a nice liberal state advocating more extensive policymaking with whatever geographic features you like for you. That’s really my ideal world, but I’m pretty realistic about its chances.

          People advocate for policy – even bad policy – that isn’t precluded from being enacted by any ideological constraints other constitutional provisions. Isn’t that preferable to imposing, or limiting, views which have been predetermined to be consistent with a set of permissible outcomes?
          I’m not really talking about limiting “views,” but the range of issues on which views can be turned into policy. But if we’re talking about “imposition,” then we have to recognize that creating policies imposes them on dissenters, so I’m not sure it’s preferable to any other form of imposition. We can look at not allowing government to create policies on X as a sort of meta-policy, and then, yes, you can reasonably critique “imposing” it on people who don’t want it. But I’m not sure you can say it’s “preferable” to instead allow some people to “impose” policies about X on others.Report

          • Avatar Stillwater in reply to James Hanley
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            says:

            James, I get the argument, I just disagree with it. I think this comment

            But the important difference is that in a real market the dissenter doesn’t have to buy the product everyone else wants.

            gets to the roots of the disagreement. On the libertarian view, any general policy which an individual disagrees with is deemed a coercive use of state force, and you want to create a government that in principle prevents that type of coercion.

            On the standard-liberal conception of US-style democracy (Democratic pluralism, say), the libertarian is entitled to advocate/lobby/champion/nominate representatives/write about/ etc etc the very views he/she thinks are non- or minimally coercive. But on the libertarian view, people’s advocacy is in principle excluded from affecting policy. So libertarian views are consistent with a broader sense of democratic pluralism while democratic pluralism is inconsistent with libertarianism.

            That’s a big difference. And I say that presupposing that both of us agree that government is, by definition, coercive. The only relevant issue here is what form the coercion takes.Report

            • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Stillwater
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              says:

              Yes, but I’d note that the difference isn’t as stark as you’re suggesting. You would limit the effectiveness of people’s advocacy for killing homosexuals by stoning, on the word of a single informant. I just take that stance and run a lot further with it.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to James Hanley
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                says:

                Do you run from it, or do you rally/organize/vote/lobby/legally challenge/write/criticize/advocate against it?

                Do you agree they have the right to advocate crazy illegal immoral views? Or do you want to legislate that right away?Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Stillwater
                Ignored
                says:

                Oops. I think I misunderstood you.

                But my question is still applicable.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Stillwater
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                says:

                I agree they have the right to advocate their views. I would limit only their ability to impose those views.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley
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                says:

                Each time I get involved in these discussions, I get enmeshed in a very substantial back and forth. I can only hope everyone out there isn’t saying, “Oh God, Hanley, shut up already.”

                Stillwater and Michael Drew are doing a great job of pushing me on defining the boundaries of my argument (unlike another commenter here), and it’s been a great conversation with them. I’ll have to hang up soon, but thanks to both of them for a stimulating discussion.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to James Hanley
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                says:

                And thanks to you as well. This hasn’t just been fun, but really informative as well.

                At least for me.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to James Hanley
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                says:

                Also, it’s a little unfair that we’re gang-tackling you like we are.

                You’re the only one who wants to play.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to James Hanley
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                says:

                I’m not readily available on the weekends.

                Housepainting and whatnot.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to James Hanley
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                says:

                Well, advocacy without the ability to implement isn’t really advocacy, right? It’s just empty bitching that may lead to solutions less amenable to society than democratic participation.

                I’m willing to agree to disagree about this if one condition could be met: that you can provide a calculus consistent with a rights based political economy that doesn’t arbitrarily circumscribe the limits of competing rights based theories from expression in the democratic process; one that grants equal access to the opportunities, protections, remedies and redress of a system informed by differing conceptions of rights based political theories.

                This was the question jfxgillis asked up-thread.

                I just don’t see how you walk the razors edge between denying the democratic process on one hand and preventing a dictatorship of ideology on the other.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Stillwater
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                says:

                Well, advocacy without the ability to implement isn’t really advocacy, right? It’s just empty bitching that may lead to solutions less amenable to society than democratic participation.

                Then you’re willing to allow the implementation of executing homosexuals in order to avoid solutions less amenable to society than democratic participation? If not, we’re just quibbling about where to draw the line, and not in fundamental disagreement. If you are, we’re in fundamental disagreement.

                I just don’t see how you walk the razors edge between denying the democratic process on one hand
                How many times do I have to say that I accept democracy before this misrepresentation goes away? I accept the democratic process where government is necessary; I wholly reject it where it’s absolutely necessary to reject government (as in executing gays or limiting someone’s advocacy of executing them); I reject it in principle but live with it in practice when it’s not necessary to have it but not absolutely necessary to reject it.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Stillwater
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                says:

                No, I’m not committed to democratic determinations of killing homosexuals. That clearly violates basic rights that circumscribe the boundaries of enactment given established conceptions of US law and constitutional provisions. Depriving them of the right to legally marry, on the other hand, is a view consistent with a (permutation of) rights based theory, but one I reject.

                Accordingly, whether wealthy people ought to be taxed at 36 or 39% is subject to reasonable dispute within the constraints of a rights based theory.

                As to the other point, to circumscribe the limits of democratic participation to exclude differing conceptions of rights based theories requires meeting a heavy burden, both principled and pragmatic.

                I don’t think that burden has been met.

                I don’t think that burden could be met.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Stillwater
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                says:

                to circumscribe the limits of democratic participation to exclude differing conceptions of rights based theories requires meeting a heavy burden, both principled and pragmatic.

                I don’t know. By not circumscribing it you’ve already excluded one rights-based theory–the theory that I have a right to live my personal life unimpeded by the wishes of the majority so long as I harm no one. Why is there no heavy burden to meet to reject that one?Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Stillwater
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                says:

                Why is there no heavy burden to meet to reject that one?

                Because you have access to the political system to implement those policies!

                But most people don’t like em.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Stillwater
                Ignored
                says:

                > Well, advocacy without the
                > ability to implement isn’t
                > really advocacy, right?

                No, although this is probably the biggest bone I have with both liberals and conservatives in the greater political sphere.

                You can advocate for whatever you want. You can even take steps to try and encourage what you want, or discourage what you don’t like, outside the scope of the law… and I don’t have much trouble with that.

                There is a *lot* of ground in there to work with, without getting in my face (or others’ faces) in a way that tramps on anyone’s gig.

                Once “advocacy” goes from “encourage people to do/not do this stuff” to “encourage the government to require/forbid this stuff”, you’re getting into the space where I’m more likely to disagree with you.

                Not because I necessarily disagree with whatever it is you’re advocating (for or against), but because I’m leery of adding more dreck to the legal code.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Stillwater
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                says:

                Thanks for making an important distinction I overlooked, Pat. As an easy example, I have no problem (beyond mere annoyance) with people advocating that women not have abortions. In fact if they went at it the right way, advocating birth control and providing real alternatives (which a very few do), I’d be very supportive of them.

                But they’re not content to advocate; they want to require an over-powering of the individual’s will.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Stillwater
                Ignored
                says:

                > But they’re not content to
                > advocate; they want to require
                > an over-powering of the
                > individual’s will.

                My biggest objection to this is structural, actually. I occasionally come across as libertarian, but I’m much more the pessimist than anything else. Rights are another objection that often applies, too, but this is very often less compelling of a problem (to me).

                When you decide to encode your advocacy in the law, you’ve done two things: you’ve encoded your advocacy in the law, right now, today (which “rights” questions aside, may very well be a good thing, right now, today)… and you’ve encoded your advocacy in the law in perpetuity (which is almost always filled with Unintended Consequences) until someone else comes along pissed off enough about this thing to overcome the opportunity cost of changing it (which given our form of government is very often Really Considerable).

                The examples of this are Legion.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Stillwater
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                says:

                Patrick, you refer to two types of advocacy – both legitimate. I was specifically referring to the latter one – the one that entails the possibility of legislation.

                Here’s the point being made: do we want a government based on broad democratic participation where specific views based in rights theory and the constitution are allowed expression in the political arena, or do we want to (in some sense) arbitrarily narrow down the permissible by imposing ideological constraints?

                One problem is making the principled argument that such a restriction (imposed by law, say) is justified (I’m not sure that case has been made in this thread). Another is that such a restriction entails some form of limit on democratic involvement (which might decide the issue all on its own, depending on how a person views the democracy vs rights issue). Another is the pragmatics of it: does it lead to a better functioning society, a more egalitarian/just/ society, a society which maximizes the set of liberties people can act on.

                Not a simple issue, no. Also, not an issue that can be answered by appealing to platitudes or truisms.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Stillwater
                Ignored
                says:

                But they’re not content to advocate; they want to require an over-powering of the individual’s will.

                But that just brings us back to the initial discussion: that all legislation is coercive, and to legislate narrow participation in democracy is itself a form of coercion (or, as you say, overpowering an individuals will).

                So, suppose that civil rights issues were excluded from being determined by democratic participation. Wouldn’t a black person feel just as inclined to utter the words you just did re: how they look at government and the individuals who’s interests are protected by maintaining the (pre-civil rights) status quo?

                The same, applies, at least by my understanding of the SC ruling, to a woman’s right to choose: it’s a constitutionally protected right that can’t be infringed by the feds or states.

                But people dispute that, obviously.

                So, two things: what are they disputing? (Current law, obvs.) And if they were prevented from having a voice in determining choice-related policy, would they suddenly become disinclined to try to change those laws ? I mean, it’s already settled law, but they’re not content with that. They want a different set of permissions to apply than currently do.

                How can you legislate away the impulse of people to try to shape the world as they think it ought to be?Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Stillwater
                Ignored
                says:

                > Also, not an issue that can be
                > answered by appealing to
                > platitudes or truisms.

                Well, sure… that’s why I said, “you’re now getting into a space where I’m more likely to disagree with you.”

                Not, “Hur! Wrong! Gar! Die, Statist/Communist/pejorative of the day!”

                > Here’s the point being made:
                > do we want a government
                > based on broad democratic
                > participation where specific
                > views based in rights theory
                > and the constitution are
                > allowed expression in the
                > political arena, or do we
                > want to (in some sense)
                > arbitrarily narrow down
                > the permissible by imposing
                > ideological constraints?

                How about “neither”? (Because you’re never going to get the first one, and the second is undesirable).

                > Another is the pragmatics
                > of it: does it lead to a better
                > functioning society, a more
                > egalitarian/just/ society, a
                > society which maximizes
                > the set of liberties people
                > can act on.

                This is the real battlefield. This is where the liberal and the conservative ought to be fighting.

                Which, often, is where they are indeed fighting.

                The problem is that they’re generally both focused on a limited understanding of the battlefield. It’s not just about today’s society (or yesterday’s), it’s about tomorrow’s and next year’s and next decades’.

                I’m hugely unconvinced that anything you pass today will likely be equitable in 40 years. Indeed, I’m pretty solidly convinced that most anything you pass today will have entrenched inequality or unintended consequences in 40 years.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Stillwater
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                says:

                I’m pretty solidly convinced that most anything you pass today will have entrenched inequality or unintended consequences in 40 years.

                Given power differentials between actors in the political arena, entrenchment will occur in any event (one reason being that certain actor’s power is already entrenched).

                And everything has unintended consequences. That’s an epistemic constraint, sure, but it oughtn’t be the most important consideration or even take precedence over identifiable negative (and positive) consequences. If the Feds were to permit gay marriage (either by SC ruling or legislation) I don’t see any negative entrenchment resulting from that – other than the role that ruling/legislation plays in galvanizing opposition to a broadly liberal society.

                But that’s the nature of politics, no? In a very real sense the Civil Rights Act created the current incarnation of the Conservative movement and the GOP. Each significant policy will to some degree or another foster an opposition which wants to repeal it.

                That’s even true of retirees who are currently advocating for repeal of SS and Medicare.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Stillwater
                Ignored
                says:

                > And everything has unintended
                > consequences. That’s an
                > epistemic constraint, sure, but
                > it oughtn’t be the most important
                > consideration or even take
                > precedence over identifiable
                > negative (and positive)
                > consequences.

                That’s fair enough, Stillwater. I agree with this framing, really. I like total cost of ownership.

                My problem is that far too often they’re not regarded as part of the discussion. That’s bad systems engineering.

                Both sides do this. It’s one of Jaybird’s primary complaints about public policy and it’s one with which I have a lot of sympathy. “Our upside is The Children! (we have no downside).”Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to James Hanley
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        says:

        “strictly limited to those cases where we can’t functionally do without it.”

        This is where people those who value democracy for its own sake at some level run into a problem. It’s on two levels: 1) why should government be limited in such a way in the first instance if it is not desired to be so by a governing majority? it sounds here as though, if you could find an opportunity, you would indeed seize any and all authority you could gather to do this limiting yourself as an autocrat if you could. What would be your own argument against why you should not do that? It can’t be a democratic argument, because the limit that you think should be placed on democracy is exactly what you are describing in issuing that imperative. Why shouldn’t a libertarian American Caesar seize the power to do this the moment he can, if those are the precise limits that democracy should have in any event?

        2) Assuming that we do retain a pluralistic, democratic polity as the constituent of our republic, how in practice does it them decide how to create a government that only acts to resolve problems in “those cases where we can’t functionally do without it.” How does a fractious polity, represented by public-choice-theory-addled representatives, identify those cases, and strictly limit its actions to addressing them and only them?

        I think democracy almost by definition prevents this, and so I tend to think when I read views such as this that it is far more fair to characterize libertarians as quite close to fundamentally opposed to democracy than they often contend that it is. I wonder, indeed, if it is not folks with views like yours, who are not in the sway of democracy’s romantic charms, to the extent that thought your argumentation seems to point directly to rejection of democracy, in our political cultural it is difficult indeed to take the final step and just dispense with it once and for all. That would be very difficult indeed.

        But democracy means precisely that outcomes cannot be “strictly limited.” Accepting that is exactly what the minimal quantum of acceptance of democracy requires. Our Constitution limits government’s powers, but it absolutely doesn’t strictly limit them. The limits are vague in the text, and they were understood by their creators to be in need of interpretation and application that made the notion of strict limitations on outcomes impossible. And that’s because they wanted to leave room for democracy.Report

        • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew
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          says:

          Obviously, I’m going a little far for effect there. The upshot is just that if you want me to understand how you see democracy as fitting into the limitations you think must be placed on government – what its value is in that scheme that you advocate – you’re going to have to go a lot further than you have. But if your response is that you don’t think that regime must be realized, but that it is just your preference among that of your fellow citizens, and your fellow citizens can overrule it with their vote, then I think you have just accepted the basic point of democrats’ argument: that the value of democracy is the inherent value of a collective choice which is collectively agreed to be the legitimate expression of the polity so long as it conforms to the institutional process that is prescribed. The choices made with that of course make use of CBA as well as myriad other valuation procedures, but as to democracy itself, the argument is an essential, not instrumental one as to its value. And if you appeal to the differing desires of your fellow citizens as to why your preference shouldn’t be imposed by fiat if it could be, it seems to me you are endorsing that value, and all the inefficiency that comes with it (though I don’t think that inefficiency is inevitable, and nothing stops you form working within the democracy to reduce it).Report

          • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew
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            says:

            made within that, not “made with that.”Report

          • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Michael Drew
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            says:

            But if your response is that you don’t think that regime must be realized, but that it is just your preference among that of your fellow citizens, and your fellow citizens can overrule it with their vote, then I think you have just accepted the basic point of democrats’ argument: that the value of democracy is the inherent value of a collective choice which is collectively agreed to be the legitimate expression of the polity so long as it conforms to the institutional process that is prescribed.

            I don’t think that follows at all. Again, it’s a pragmatic argument. Allowing more democracy than I think is wise ultimately is less dangerous than imposing limitations by force of an autocrat.

            There’s a lot to be said for following established institutional processes, though. That in itself is an important constraint on government; and quite often a constraint on democracy (depending on our definitions, of course).Report

            • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to James Hanley
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              says:

              I certainly agree with the second graf there. But it should mean that the decisions that come out get more presumptive legitimacy, not less.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Michael Drew
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                says:

                Not sure I follow. If you mean that democratic decisions have more presumptive legitimacy than autocratic ones, I’ll cautiously agree. I don’t agree because I think “50%+1 of the population says X” is normatively more legitimate than “0% of the population +1 says X.” A majority’s belief in something normally confers no legitimacy upon it. Again, it’s purely pragmatic. An individual is even less trustworthy than a majority.

                Of course “presumptive” doesn’t mean always, so that leaves open the possibility that some autocratic decision will, upon inspection, turn out to be more legitimate. That would be the case, for example, if the autocrat’s policy protected an unpopular but harmless minority against a senselessly bigoted majority. So that’s not theoretically impossible. But I think we’d both agree that it’s not to be relied upon.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to James Hanley
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                says:

                No, I’m comparing our system of democratic institutions that temper public sentiment favorably with ones that would respond sensitively to any and every 50%+1 whim public preference.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Michael Drew
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                says:

                Michael,

                We have those institutions precisely because we don’t really trust democracy that much. Then later on we changed our definition of the term democracy to include the presence of all those anti-democratic institutions. For the mot part, that’s not really too problematic, but in discussions like this it causes endless problems.

                Because from my perspective, what you’ve just said is that you value collective decision-making within a system that severely constrains the scope of that collective decision-making. And I fully agree with that; I’m just for tempering or constraining the scope of collective decision-making even more than you are.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to James Hanley
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                says:

                No, I’ve just said that i prefer a system that constrains it to one that doesn’t. I haven’t said anything about my preference for the severity of the constraints. And I haven’t conditioned my valuation of democracy on the limits. I see inherent value in the collective decision making with regard to the government’s actions. I just also think that the outcomes over the long term are improved if there are constraints.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley
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                says:

                I see inherent value in the collective decision making

                You’ve pressed me very hard on why I don’t, but haven’t explained why you do.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to James Hanley
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                says:

                I haven’t pushed you that hard about why. I’ve been trying to push to understand better exactly what your view of the value of democracy is – whether perhaps you might value it more highly, and more based on an intuition that it is inherently desirable, than you allow; or whether perhaps you underplay the extent to which you for practical purposes essentially reject it. That’s because I saw a considerable tension between your stated aims in constituting government, your rejection of the reality or meaning of the aggregation of public preferences, and your desire nevertheless to retain democracy at some level. So I sought to probe what exactly your view of its place is. This did require asking after your reasons to an extent, but that wasn’t my primary aim in my questions.

                My view is that it is a guarantee that there will be considerable, even extensive state power over individuals in most inhabited parts of this world, and that therefore a degree of collective control over the decision making of said state power is inherently desirable because it returns a portion of that power, including to a large extent the ends to which it is put use, back to the people over whom it is exercised, allowing them to exercise a degree – the greater the better within limits – of self-rule. This is as absolute valuation because it doesn’t depend on the size or amount of power the state has in a given case, and because it is not related to any argument that outcomes will be better for it. I can’t conceive of a way this could be done that does not aggregate the power of individuals and employ some means of probing their opinion as a group. I think this is desirable because I find the idea of governing by reference only to the (and here is where the word is truly appropriate) technocratic determinations of some best-course determining algorithm and not by reference to the preferences of the governed distasteful to the point of abhorrence.

                You may call this romantic – I view it as simply having a conscious categorical preference no based on outcome. It’s only romantic when someone denies the cost or potential cost involved (and though that is what you initially sought to criticize, you have come to call my position romantic as well). I still haven’t reviewed the full thread and Erik’s post closely to know whether anyone has denied the costs. Whatever has been written, I would surprised if anyone has really meant to deny them. Arguing that they are clearly offset is not the same as denying them.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to James Hanley
                Ignored
                says:

                …haven’t meant to push you that hard about why, I mean.Report

        • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Michael Drew
          Ignored
          says:

          Why shouldn’t a libertarian American Caesar seize the power to do this the moment he can, if those are the precise limits that democracy should have in any event?
          Michael, it’s purely a pragmatic argument against that. There’s precious little historical/empirical/theoretical support for believing this can be done long term. I’m far more willing to throw in my lot with the unblinkingly pro-democracy crowd than I am to put my faith in an autocrat who promises to remain limited to the extent I want him to remain limited.

          But, for argument’s sake, let’s say we humans did discover a way to create a political system where power was limited to approximately what I wanted it to be limited to, and we could absolutely ensure that it could stretch no further than that, regardless of who was in power. Then in that (unfortunately impossible) case, it wouldn’t matter to me whether we had democracy or an autocrat or a computer or a policy lottery. In fact I’d probably plump for the latter one. Because in fact I don’t value democracy for itself. I think that do so is to romanticize something about it in relation to collective decision-making–to assume that somewhere along the way the set of disparate individual preferences really do become a meaningful “group preference,” that I don’t believe happens.

          to the extent that thought your argumentation seems to point directly to rejection of democracy
          But it doesn’t. I strongly reject that argument. It points to the rejection of giving government authority over an extensive range of issues, limiting it to a discrete few, and for those few using democratic processes. Unless some other method can be shown to be a superior approach to governance for those few issues where I believe governance is necessary than democracy is, then it cannot be a rejection of democracy itself.

          Democracy is a tool. A useful one, that is better than a lot of other tools we could employ. But only a tool, and an imperfect one.

          How does a fractious polity, represented by public-choice-theory-addled representatives, identify those cases, and strictly limit its actions to addressing them and only them? I think democracy almost by definition prevents this
          Heh, you’re probably right. All we can really do–and I think this is in fact what Jason and I are doing–is urge people to think about whether a collective decision is necessary; to try to persuade them to give up some of the policies they would like to have in exchange for not being forced to live with other policies they would not like. Another way to put that is that I would try to persuade my fellow citizens to vote for more amendments to the U.S. Constitution that place more constraints on the government’s scope of authority. If I found myself in a position to impose such a solution by force, the right thing for me to do would be to abstain.Report

          • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to James Hanley
            Ignored
            says:

            But my suggestion was you could do it yourself. Why not then?Report

            • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Michael Drew
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              says:

              Maybe, Michael, if you flapped your arms hard enough, you could fly.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Jason Kuznicki
                Ignored
                says:

                So we can’t discuss abstractions here now? He claims not to value democracy inherently at all, because he wouldn’t “trust” an autocrat. At the same time, he has a very clearly articulated program for government. This question simply follows.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew
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                says:

                …only chooses democracy over autocracy because he wouldn’t trust an autocrat, rather. I’m not asking him to set up the system for after he’s gone. I’m just asking him whether, if he could step in and make all the laws for as long as he cared what the laws were, and was assured democracy would produce laws he found vastly inferior to the ones he would make, would he? And if not, why, if it has nothing to do with the inherent value of democracy?Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Michael Drew
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                says:

                I’m just asking him whether, if he could step in and make all the laws for as long as he cared what the laws were, and was assured democracy would produce laws he found vastly inferior to the ones he would make, would he? And if not, why, if it has nothing to do with the inherent value of democracy?

                Oh, that’s a little different than what I thought you were asking.

                I probably would not, for fear of being assassinated by someone who wanted me to do more. I also wouldn’t want the responsibility for making all the decisions. Even assuming it was better for society, it wouldn’t necessarily be a better thing for me.

                I don’t see that any of those things has much to do with the supposed inherent value of democracy.

                I do think democracy is better than autocracy, and if you want to ascribe that as seeing some inherent value in democracy, I could go along with that. What I don’t see is the argument that there is something necessarily noble–something necessarily to be valued, treated as legitimate, or respected–about a group decision that imposes costs on other members of the group, just because it occurred as a group decision.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to James Hanley
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                says:

                I’m not sure, but I think I just got you to admit you value democracy, Professor.

                The assassination thing I could wave away with my wand as well, clearly.

                As to not wanting to do it yourself, I’ll continue to harp on comparative price. Apparently the costs of democracy to you are not so high that you’d be willing to eliminate them at the price of having to institute a better system yourself (given absolute power to do so). Which seems pretty wise to me.

                So you don’t want an autocracy where someone else makes the laws because obviously they can’t be trusted; you don’t want an autocracy where you make the laws because you might be assassinated and anyway you can’t be bothered; democracy has very high costs. Is there an intermediate system that you would choose if prefer, or do you indeed positively prefer democracy to all other possibilities? If you do, I maintain you are not really making a point about democracy’s costs as a system, because I still think that has to be a comparative assessment. Rather, I think the most you can be arguing is simply that we have no choice but to run democracy so that it minimizes the costs you want to avoid. Is your argument more than that?Because in a democracy the only means to do this with are democratic means. What are you calling for?Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley
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                says:

                Because in a democracy the only means to do this with are democratic means.

                Yes, that’s the limitation of my argument. But it’s a very minimal valuation of democracy. And I don’t see how it negates my claims about democracy’s “costs as a system.” All systems have costs, and I thought I was only critiquing those who get their panties in a wad whenever democracies costs are pointed out and they’re encouraged to take them seriously.Report

            • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Michael Drew
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              says:

              But my suggestion was you could do it yourself. Why not then?

              Because I’m no more trusty than any other person given an autocrat’s powers. And even if I am, I’m not immortal.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to James Hanley
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                says:

                So what you’re saying is that, to the end of implementing the policies you prefer, looking prospectively, you expect democracy to impose a lower cost on the country (or whatever your domain of interest is) in doing this than you yourself, trying to do it to the best of your ability, would do. Is there a system you can name that actually would impose lower costs to that end than democracy?Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Michael Drew
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                says:

                Is there a system you can name that actually would impose lower costs to that end than democracy?

                Markets, in situations where collective decision-making is not necessary. In situations where collective decision-making is necessary, no, which is why I support democracy rather than autocracy in those cases.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to James Hanley
                Ignored
                says:

                And back on the merry-go-round we climb.

                Markets are not a system of government. I realize your aim is to limit government do that markets can order human life to the extent they can/they should/you want them. But markets cannot by themsleves limit government. So the question remains: by what political system to you want to achieve a lasting limitation on government so that it acts only “in situations where collective decision-making is necessary”? If democracy will not limit government’s role in this way, do you still want democracy? If so, why?Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Michael Drew
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                says:

                Wait, you didn’t ask me to name a system that could limit government. You asked me to name a system that would impose lower costs on the country.

                Limiting government is a different question, and I think I’ve already answered that question repeatedly. Assuming we must have government–and I do assume it–a system that is strictly limited via constitutional constraints so that the governing institutions/processes have authority over a very limited set of issues on which our preferences differ. Given those limitations, democracy is preferable to autocracy because it is less likely to slip the bounds of those limitations, even though any decisions it makes within those bounds are not necessarily more legitimate or honorable than the within-the-bounds decisions of an autocrat, robot, or policy lottery.

                There’s really nothing in that sentence I haven’t said several times already.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew
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                says:

                I asked for a system “to that end,” which was implementing policies you prefer. By which I meant government policies. Sorry if that was unclear.

                I understoof the polcies you prefer to be a limiting of the things government tries to address in the way you describe. So in my mind, I was asking about what system that would limit government in the way you want that would also impose fewer costs than democracy (I realize these are aligned aims in your view). And obviously, constitutional limitation is the logical answer. But it still leaves the question of the place of democracy in implementing such a constitution in your scheme. How should we get such a constitution? (Because we don’t have one. We have one that limits government, but not to the substantive extent extent you have described.) And should this constitution be subject to amendment based on democratic preferences (even if the mechanism for doing so sets a high bar for the necessary magnitude of the preference)?Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Michael Drew
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                says:

                But it still leaves the question of the place of democracy in implementing such a constitution in your scheme. How should we get such a constitution? … And should this constitution be subject to amendment based on democratic preferences (even if the mechanism for doing so sets a high bar for the necessary magnitude of the preference)?

                Good questions without easy answers. This is the best I can do off the top of my head, and then I’m afraid I really will have to beg off.

                Unless we have something that at least resembles an autocracy, I see no alternatives but to do it democratically. I don’t just mean I don’t see a better alternative–I can’t, at least at the moment, actually imagine what non-democratic, non-authoritarian could get us there.

                I mean, I can imagine a market in states, where various landowners try to persuade “customers” to buy “citizenship.” But because the landowner is the real owner, it’s at least arguably autocratic. And he either retains autocratic control over the Constitution he’s designed, or he gives up control, and then it becomes subject to democratic amendment.

                As an example, I bought a piece of property in Montana. A land company had bought a ranch, established a property owner’s association, and drafted by-laws. They could have retained total control over the by-laws (but that would probably have made it harder to sell lots–at least if most people don’t like that kind of autocracy!), but they relinquished control at the point where a majority of the lots had been bought, and the by-laws become democratically amendable (lamentably, to me, in the particular case, because I actually liked what this particular autocrat did better than what the demos did; so much so that I want to sell out).

                Asides aside, that case presents a nice little example. What third way exists, other than everyone being king of their own little state, and I don’t see that as either an ideal or a possibility.

                Even a democracy, of course, is only constrained if its governors and the demos agree to the constraints.

                And here we run into some semantic difficulties. I want to urge the demos to reject democratic control over certain issues. Does it take democracy to do that? Sure, but then is that more democratic or less? Well, it requires democracy to achieve, but if achieved, it limits the scope of democratic authority. And limiting the scope of authoritative decision-making is my goal.Report

          • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to James Hanley
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            says:

            Democracy is a tool. A useful one, that is better than a lot of other tools we could employ. But only a tool, and an imperfect one.

            That’s *exactly* how I feel about markets.Report

            • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Mike Schilling
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              says:

              That’s *exactly* how I feel about markets.

              Of course. But from my perspective you misunderstand both markets and democracy, so you undervalue the first and overvalue the second.

              You’re more worried about Microsoft saying, “you can only have what’s mine if you agree to my rules,” more than a majority saying “we can have what’s yours because we say so.” From my perspective on the world that’s exactly backwards.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to James Hanley
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                says:

                I’m worried about those with financial power using it to stifle competition, because I’ve seen it. I’m also concerned about unregulated markets leading to bubbles that burst catastrophically, because I’ve seen that too. I’m very unimpressed by theoretical arguments about perfect markets because I’ve never seen one of those.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Mike Schilling
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                says:

                Yes, and I won’t reiterate our argument here, but you know what I think of your arguments on that matter.

                And by the way, if you think “imperfect market” = “regulation automatically justified, and certain to be an improvement”–which I think you implicitly do, at least to some extent, because you brought up the “perfect market” strawman–then I’m afraid we’re so far apart on this matter that it would more than a blog discussion to even begin to bridge the gap between us.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to James Hanley
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                says:

                And by the way, if you think “imperfect market” = “regulation automatically justified, and certain to be an improvement”

                Automatically and certain? That’s the same strawman as “Liberals favor every program that makes the government bigger”. I expected better.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Mike Schilling
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                says:

                Agreed it’s a bit of an overstatement, but at the core of almost every call for government intervention into the market rests the belief that government can correct the alleged market failure without causing subsequent and more serious market distortions, if they’ll just enact the “right” policy. That’s what I really mean, and I think it’s a serious error to hold that belief.

                An inspection of most regulatory policies makes them look pretty good if you end your analysis at the level of direct intended effects (although some look pretty bad even there–e.g., the war on drugs). But most don’t look so good when you start looking more carefully past that superficial level and observe the indirect effects, and how seriously they distort the economy.

                In reference to MS’s restrictive agreements, I was speaking recently with Radley Balko, and he told me that his contract to write for Huffington Post was exclusive–his freelancing days were over. He regretted some of his now-lost opportunities (some pretty remunerative), but said he was still better off working for HuffPo than he was working for Reason and being able to freelance.

                Should we sympathize with Balko and denounce HuffPo’s restrictive contract? Or should we treat Balko as competent to make a rational decision about entering into a contractual agreement?Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Mike Schilling
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                says:

                In reference to MS’s restrictive agreements, I was speaking recently with Radley Balko, and he told me that his contract to write for Huffington Post was exclusive–his freelancing days were over.

                You seriously think that’s a good analogy?Report

              • Avatar MFarmer in reply to Mike Schilling
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                says:

                “Liberals favor every program that makes the government bigger”.

                Who are you quoting?Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Mike Schilling
                Ignored
                says:

                You seriously think that’s a good analogy?

                So explain why it isn’t. Or try this one. At the time I was hired by my college, I had exactly one teaching offer–theirs. I could not continue in the business unless I accepted their offer (just as you claim HP could not have continued in the PC business unless it accepted MS’s offer). My contract includes a non-compete clause–I can’t do any teaching elsewhere unless they deign to let me do so. Was I coerced? If not, how is that different from HP’s situation?

                Or is the tech industry so different that different standards apply for recognizing coercion in a contract?

                And, by the way, you never presented a serious argument that HP didn’t have any alternatives–the very fact that these orphan OS’s are supposedly so fantastically superior to MS’s Os severely undercuts that claim. The idea that there is a product super-way-better than what’s currently available, but a company can’t make money selling it unless they can also sell the really-much-crappier product requires a lot more explanation than you’ve given so far.Report

              • Avatar wardsmith in reply to Mike Schilling
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                says:

                From HP to HPC. The company I co-founded years ago almost single-handedly invented the Linux supercomputer. Admittedly that’s a relatively small market, except when you count CPU’s. But which would you rather sell, 1000 computers to about 1000 customers (and the ensuing headaches) or one computer with 1000 CPU’s to one customer?

                What we learned to our chagrin was that building the world’s fastest supercomputer (which we did) only invites our competition to wildly undercut us in the market (which they did) and essentially donate a massive system so they could be on top of the “best” heap once again. That behavior drove us out of business, cost me my mid 6 figure investment, but I don’t begrudge the big companies for big-stacking us.

                As you can see from Penguin, they are doing what we /should/ have (and what I proposed but was voted down), which is make supercomputing a cloud business. We were just too early in the game, back when people thought an HPC required proprietary Cray type technology and not cheap CPU’s.

                MS played for awhile in this market and literally couldn’t even donate their systems running NT, no matter how many CPU’s they gave away. Some things are simply better on better platforms but for what the usual ID10T’s do with their computers, Windows is just fine.

                Even though I lost that game, I wouldn’t want government’s massive thumbs on the scale to “even things out”. That never succeeds, gov’t just distorts the hell out of markets ruining things for everyone but the select cronies who have the best connections.

                Capitalism requires eggs to be broken.Report

              • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to Mike Schilling
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                says:

                Murphg.

                Windows couldn’t thread worth a damn forever, and even now (when it can) the OS overhead is an order of magnitude higher than a Linux box.

                FreeBSD is even better in some ways because you compile the world on the machine, but it’s a pain in the ass to scale and it doesn’t have the software base that Linux does.

                P.S. -> Ward (assuming you’re not making too much stuff up to distract me) I’m gonna figure out who you are with another dollop of info like that one 🙂Report

          • Avatar Ben Wolf in reply to James Hanley
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            says:

            “Democracy is a tool. A useful one, that is better than a lot of other tools we could employ. But only a tool, and an imperfect one.”

            I would challenge you to present empirical evidence of a system superior to democracy, a system of governance where individuals are more free, or more wealthy. I certainly can’t find one, and I’d at least like to know one exists before I agree to dismantle the American system in a grand political experiment.Report

            • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Ben Wolf
              Ignored
              says:

              I would challenge you to present empirical evidence of a system superior to democracy, a system of governance where individuals are more free, or more wealthy.

              Ben, the fact that you can write that suggests you’re more interested in arguing than reading closely. First, throughout everything I’ve written here, I’ve already answered that several times over. Second, the fact that democracy is an imperfect tool does not imply that I see something much better. There is no necessary reason to assume that the best tool available isn’t severely flawed.

              To say democracy is an imperfect tool is not to say anything substantively different than the old line attributed to Churchill, that “democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”

              Is it really such a terrible offense to emphasize democracy’s flaws, and to follow from that with the conclusion that “therefore, since no form of government is particularly good, I want to allow government control–of any kind–over as restricted an area of human action as we reasonably can.”

              Now it’s A-OK if you disagree with that sentiment, or if you agree abstractly but think we libertarians take it way too far. But to pretend it’s some outrageous and illogical sentiment that actually promotes some kind of government other than democracy? You cant’ do that logically–you can only do that by misrepresenting the argument and ignoring the points I’ve already made.

              And that’s what I mean by “visceral reactions to criticisms of democracy.” Somehow it causes intelligent people to lose sight of their capacity for serious reasoned debate and to go searching for strawmen and red herrings.Report

              • Avatar DarrenG in reply to James Hanley
                Ignored
                says:

                “therefore, since no form of government is particularly good, I want to allow government control–of any kind–over as restricted an area of human action as we reasonably can.”

                I don’t think it’s a terrible offense to make this claim, but I think it suffers from two major flaws.

                One is the conflation of all government action with “government control.” There is a continuum of possible states between “completely uninvolved” and “total control.”

                The second problem is the assumption that barring government from involvement in a particular area won’t result in other entities filling the void with an even more coercive and restrictive regime (e.g. cartels, militias, violent criminal syndicates).Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to DarrenG
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                says:

                One is the conflation of all government action with “government control.” There is a continuum of possible states between “completely uninvolved” and “total control.”
                In theory, yes. In practice it tends to evolve toward actual enforceable control. What begins with encouragement, when simple encouragement doesn’t work, frustrates those who want a particular outcome, and so they press for more and more control. Witness, for example, Barney Frank’s suggestion to limit the amount of dissenting opinion on the Federal Reserve Board.

                The second problem is the assumption that barring government from involvement in a particular area won’t result in other entities filling the void with an even more coercive and restrictive regime (e.g. cartels, militias, violent criminal syndicates).
                What makes you think this assumption exists? That’s a ridiculously unfair claim. Those outcomes are exactly what define the limit of where we “reasonably can” do without government. Why is this so hard for everyone to grasp? Criticism of democracy does not mean acceptance of warlords or anything like. The claim is that if leaving a problem untouched by the government won’t result in roving warlords, criminal syndicates, or some such other unacceptably coercive outcome, then it’s not an appropriate issue for government regulation. (And we’ll set aside for the moment the extent to which government regulation actually promotes, rather than diminishes, the incentives to create criminal syndicates!)

                You could only get to the conclusion that I assumed this wouldn’t happen by ignoring the fact that I said, “whenever possible,” rather than “no government ever.” Only the latter can logically lead someone to say there is such an assumption.

                Seriously, is anyone actually reading what I write, or just looking for a useful snippet to try to play “gotcha”?Report

              • Avatar DarrenG in reply to James Hanley
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                says:

                In practice it tends to evolve toward actual enforceable control.

                Except, of course, where it doesn’t, or does the exact opposite as in the case of the Internet, the airline and beer industries (pace E.D.), and everything that was nationalized during WWII that was immediately re-privatized thereafter.

                As for the second issue I apologize if I over-stated your position, but I think your “whenever possible” could be much better defined. After all, a lot of government regulation exists as a response to actual historic incidents involving coercion and abuse by private individuals and organizations (yes, the actual regulations may not always address the intended issue and/or may have even-less-desirable side effects, but the initial impulse to regulate would still seem to fit your “whenever possible” exception).Report

        • Avatar MFarmer in reply to Michael Drew
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          says:

          ” why should government be limited in such a way in the first instance if it is not desired to be so by a governing majority?”

          It “should” be limited for all the reasons already given by those who believe it should be limited, but it doesn’t have to be limited, as we’ve seen in practice. A majority of Americans can forcefully deny limited government to those who want limited government. Libertarians can promote limited government and make arguments for limited government, but if we’re outnumbered and outpowered, “should” no longer comes into play. Then we’re presented with a serious split in America, and it’s up to individuals as to how they accept or reject the rule of the majority. We’re getting close to this serious split. Some probable outcomes are emigration, a larger black market and many efforts to thwart the coercion. But seizing power through violence to enforce a libertarian government against the will of the majority is not what I consider a good option. If it gets to the point a minority of limited government proponents are oppressed, then I imagine each individual will decide how to react. I think we can win through persuasion as the consequences of statism become more dire.Report

          • Avatar James Hanley in reply to MFarmer
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            says:

            A nice alternative would be if the majority of the public of the U.S. would democratically allow us a state to try out our favored approach. But I think it’s pretty clear that the push to nationalize every issue would mean that American demos would never allow it.Report

            • Avatar Herb in reply to James Hanley
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              says:

              I’m assuming you’re joking, but….

              Why would they? This is the United States, e pluribus unum. It’s a country in which people live and work and bear children and die. It’s not a laboratory for poli-sci experiments. It’s a primordial soup from which springs people’s lives.

              As absurd as it is to long for a life of freedom on the seastead, it’s even more absurd to expect a country to provide you with your own libertopia because you have a minority view.Report

  12. Avatar Michael Drew
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    says:

    I suppose, however, that this must be insufficiently strong praise. Perhaps I must say that in a democracy the will of the collective somehow replaces or sublates my own will, that it can turn wrong into right, or that it can make voluntary all acts of coercion. I get the sense, anyway, that this is what’s expected of us, and that libertarians’ real offense is that we go around saying that — for these cases at least — Emperor Democracy isn’t wearing any clothes.

    And if that’s the case, then I am an enemy of democracy. But I still agree with von Mises.

    Why don’t you just say what you do think of democracy, Jason, regardless of whether someone might think it’s insufficient, and independent of the words of dead heroes?

    I agree it is sophistry to deny that the tax system we have is coercive. Luckily only us dumb commenters have apparently maintained as much. That doesn’t speak to democracy at all. Are not inclined to? Not capable?Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Michael Drew
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      says:

      I can explain why I think democracy is great, and after that I can explain when I stopped beating my wife. Because that’s sort of the character this questioning is taking on.

      I’ve already explained what I think. Democracy is great because it allows peaceful transitions of power and peaceful implementation of popular measures. Democracy has serious shortcomings in some ways, however, because of the tendency to put even basic rights up for a vote, along with all the issues so well described in the literature on public choice theory.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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        says:

        Sorry if I didn’t see where you gave your own view in this post or elsewhere. It seemed to me that you only approvingly quoted Von Mises and Hayek. You said you agreed with them. But that leaves open whether you had any independent view of the value of democracy that departs from or extends beyond theirs, or whether your view is simply wholly instructed by them. That’s what I was asking.

        I don’t mean to persecute you on the question, but I also don’t see why you think you shouldn’t be pushed on your views on democracy, since you chose to create a post about it but declined to offer your view beyond quoting some eminences (which you can obviously make your view identical with. I was just seeking to clarify whether that’s what you were doing or not.).Report

        • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Michael Drew
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          says:

          We seem to be disagreeing about my implicit motivations for writing the post, so I’ll state them as explicitly as I can.

          I quoted Mises and Hayek because they, and not I, were under attack in the Michael Lind piece. My purpose here was to defend them, not to expound my own views.

          I am a small fish, and at times I have the good sense to realize it. I have, however, read a good deal of both Mises and Hayek, and I can recognize when an author like Lind is giving a grossly unfair summary of their thought on an issue.

          That’s what’s happening here, and I hastened to correct my friend Erik, who seems to have been led astray by Lind’s errors.

          I’d thought that in all of this my own views were of secondary interest at best, which is why they got very little discussion in the above.

          Those views however are certainly more complex than “I basically agree with Hayek,” even while that statement remains a good first approximation. If you want more nuance about what I actually think, then the points that follow will supply it.

          1. First, I reject the too-easy conflation between “democracy” and “liberal democracy.” The former is a decisionmaking process, no more and no less. The latter is a form of government under which significant decisions are made via deliberative democracy, while some types of decisions remain out of reach of democratic (or any other) politics.

          2. My praise for liberal democracy, so defined, is unstinting. We simply don’t have anything better. My praise for democracy, so defined, is much more qualified, although very often, we still don’t have anything better. Within our liberal democracy, sometimes democracy-the-decisionmaking-process is the right tool for the job, and sometimes it isn’t.

          3. Although I agree with Hayek in the main about democracy, I find several of his prescriptions in The Political Order of a Free People idiosyncratic and not necessarily wise. I can get into this another time, but I have the sense that very few others have read the book, so I’m not sure how interesting that would be.

          4. My views on democracy are also strongly influenced by others outside of Mises and Hayek. Indeed, they aren’t even the first two names on the list for me. Those would be John Stuart Mill and Karl Popper. But the attack on Mill in Lind’s piece was either laughably misconceived or else merely extraneous, and thus merited very little thought, and Karl Popper didn’t get mentioned at all, either in Erik’s post, or in the Lind article, or anywhere else. I haven’t had a reason to talk about them, so I haven’t.

          5. Much has happened even since the deaths of Hayek (1992) and Popper (1994) in public choice theory. We aren’t talking about those developments here, but if we were, I would stress their importance and the limits they suggest for the appropriate scope of democracy as a decisionmaking process in the context of our liberal democratic polity.Report

          • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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            says:

            It just seemed to me that in raising the question of whether we “demos” would find fault with the sufficiency of you praise for democracy, you essentially raised the question of what your views of the topic are on your own. In any case it’s the question on the table. If the problem is that some people have gotten the wrong idea about libertarians’s views of democracy, how is this helped by being unwilling to say what yours are?

            But if it’s just all about the vons, I can certainly accept that.Report

            • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Michael Drew
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              says:

              In trying to define what the movement is about, they pull a lot more weight than I do.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Jason Kuznicki
                Ignored
                says:

                I hope that’s not something you want to remain true. They can’t explain themselves, and they have no idea what is going on in the world today. Moreover, to the extent I care about misunderstandings between libertarians and myself or others, it’s libertarians who are alive and advocating in the world and actually having to deal with the state power their ideas are oriented against.

                And again, you raised the question of whether someone would tell you *your view* was insufficient. You can put that to rest by simply saying, Here’s my view, deal with it. Having brought all of that anticipated acrimony up, you can hardly be surprised that someone might wonder what it would be over. Indeed, you can hardly deny you brought up the topic of your own views. I guess I’m just confused why you’d think the question of what they are wouldn’t be of interest.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Michael Drew
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                says:

                And I’m going to stop explaining to you when I stopped beating my wife. I’m just not playing that game anymore.

                “But Jason, what do you think about democracy?”

                “I like it.”

                “But Jason, aren’t you suspicious of democracy?”

                “At times, it can produce bad results. And I worry about people sometimes putting too much faith in it.”

                “So you don’t like democracy?”

                “No, I still like it, warts and all.”

                “But tell me why you don’t like democracy. You need to explain yourself more fully!”

                This really is tiresome. Re-read the original post, as well as the comment where I explained myself further to you.

                You would find absolutely any excuse to be suspicious of me, and I find it very hard to discuss with you as a result.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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                says:

                Whatever. So just ignore me. Why did you write this in that case?Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Jason Kuznicki
                Ignored
                says:

                Is there somewhere in that previous comment where I ask you to explain yourself even further? You explained your views perfectly two comments ago. I don’t require a word’s more. Since then I’ve only been trying to explain myself to you, since you have been expressing so much suspicion of me and others for inquiring as to your view. I thought your explanation was so obviously complete that I didn’t even need to acknowledge that it satisfied me. So, to be clear: my apologies for not saying so, but you answered my question beyond what I could have expected of you at #187. I have not been meaning to ask more of you since then. In that same comment, you suggested that I had misunderstood your intent in writing this post, and you said that you’d have thought there wouldn’t be interest in your views. That seemed to me to be observations about my conduct and interaction with you to which it wouldn’t be out of place for me to explain myself. Since that comment, again, I have not meant to say you still have not explained yourself. When I wrote in the most recent comment, “You can put that to rest by simply saying…” I was not trying to say that you had still not done that, I was trying to explain my reason for asking after your view initially. My apologies if the verb tense misled; I can see why it would have. I was think from the perspective of you writing that in the present.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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                says:

                And last thing. On “When did you stop beating your wife?”: it’s just not like that on my end. I don’t know what I’ve written to suggest to you that it is, but it has to be somewhere in the initial comment heading this sub-thread, or else in prior writings. I don’t see it in the comment; I submit you are simply being paranoid and unfair.

                You’re already accusing us of being ready to declare you an apostate in the post. Isn’t it a little rich to then say to the person who says, you know, it’s not like that and even if it were, you can still just say what your view is (if you care about the topic at all), and the rest of us can go to hell? That’s why I asked if you’re not inclined – i.e. you just don’t have the interest in the topic beyond correcting the record as to the Europeans. My point is that that is not what is suggested by your passive-aggressive move at the end of the post, which was already an unfair one before you started accusing me of accusing you of beating your wife. So I asked.

                But whatever.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Michael Drew
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                says:

                Your last two comments have done a lot to help explain things. You are absolutely correct that I read the line “You can put that to rest…” with exasperation. I’d thought I’d just done exactly what you were asking me to do!

                In that context, I hope the remarks about “When did you stop beating your wife?” become a bit more reasonable. The whole thing began to look like a controversy rigged up by you, one I couldn’t possibly escape, because the louder I talked about my (very favorable) views on democracy, the more you seemed committed to denying that I was a sufficiently democratic citizen.

                As to this:

                you just don’t have the interest in the topic beyond correcting the record as to the Europeans.

                If Michael Lind had attacked my views, I might have explained my views. He did not; he attacked the views of “the Europeans.”

                But I do think the entirety of this thread more than vindicates my final paragraphs. Whenever you don’t lead off by saying that democracy can do no wrong, people get angry. I’ve seen it before, and I’m sure I’ll see it again.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Michael Drew
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                says:

                Considering that democracy is, in some philosophies, free-market capitalism applied to politics, then it’s not hard to see how a people who hold that free-market capitalism is the only morally correct type of economic interaction would get upset at the notion that democracy doesn’t axiomatically produce the optimal solution.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew
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                says:

                I’m glad I could clarify – obviously, as I said, using “can” rather than “could have” was a dumb mistake on my part that was in retrospect certain not to convey my meaning.

                But Jason, look at our discussion. You started with the wife-beating thing as soon as I asked you about your reticence to give your view. It was your initial response to my comment. Sure, I was a bit confrontational about it – you’d just accused us all of having the agenda that you say certain things about democracy that you don’t want to say! I was trying to say, is that really how you feel about us here? That we don’t all want this to be a place where people can say what they really think so that honest discussions can happen? It just doesn’t seem congruent with everything I have experienced about this site, whatever Michael Lind’s transgressions. So no, I really don’t think what’s transpired at least between us since can do much to make me understand why that’s a reaction I should understand you having. And neither do really see much else in the thread overall that supports your pre-emptive (in the post) and hyperbolic (“wife-beatings”) contentions that you are in danger of persecution on this topic. Obviously, though, I can’t tell you that you can’t feel that way.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Michael Drew
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                says:

                But Jason, look at our discussion. You started with the wife-beating thing as soon as I asked you about your reticence to give your view.

                And it was fully appropriate to do so. The claim by Michael Lind was that libertarians have a secret, autocratic agenda. Your insisting that I hadn’t come clean about my own views was of a piece with that argument.

                I’d thought I was setting the record straight about some notables. I hadn’t realized that my (only relative) silence about my own views would be taken as suspicious. I’d thought you were more charitable than that.

                I found your move particularly galling when the only personal sentiments I expressed were a clear agreement with vociferous pro-democratic sentiments, and exasperation that this was (probably) somehow not enough for the likes of Michael Lind.Report

  13. Avatar Boegiboe
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    says:

    The ideal imaginary society has no scarcity. Everyone has their basic needs + some desires met. There are two different questions to answer in (affluent; American; Western) politics: 1) How can we reduce apparent (or real) scarcity? and 2) What is government most efficient at doing as scarcity decreases?Report

  14. Avatar Roger
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    says:

    Jason, I agree that libertarians have a love/hate relationship with Democracy.

    Democracy is a way of solving problems collectively that allows generally peaceful decision making and change.

    The trouble is that it can amplify into any and all spheres of our lives. As it grows too intrusive, it can limit freedom. Indeed, it appears to have an inherent dynamic to grow more intrusive over time. Rules, regulations, taxes, rent seekers, free riders and bureaucracy self amplify. As states age, they become more intrusive and sclerotic.

    We all have different values, needs and contextual situations. As we lose liberty we also lose the individual ability to solve problems and optimize our desired outcomes. We all start getting more and more into each other’s way.

    Lots of states will continue to explore the tradeoffs of more or less coercion and regulation. For those valuing freedom, I suggest pursuing the following (Democratically/persuasively):

    1) Subsidiarity — Moving the level of authority/regulation down to the lowest practical level. This allows experimentation, choice, competition and benchmarks, and reduces the need for unsatisfactory “only a committee could love this” compromises. If you can live in the community you like and I can live in the one I like, we both win.

    2) Building choice/options and opt outs into democracy where practical — If majority wants to build a middle class transfer policy to fund retirement and to entrust the funds to congress, we need to push for opt outs and options. (Galveston, choice on retirement age/benefits/tax rate etc).

    3) Encourage non government problem solving where possible. Part of the problem here is that people are biased to assume the only way to solve problems or plan is top down. This is a huge myth.

    4) Continue to create new states (experiment) that start fresh and demonstrate the possibilities of liberty. This is complicated by the fact that states have traditionally been territorially based and we have now run out of virgin territory. Seasteading and Romer’s ideas on new cities are aimed here. The other alternative is to explore less territorially based states. (I have always wondered why Indian Reservations have never experimented in this direction?)

    My point is that what is important here are the dynamics of the system. Today the dynamic is regulatory/coercive bloat. If we can democratically build enough choice into the system, perhaps we can counteract that trend. If not, we collectively will need to figure out how to rebuild it after it freezes up or self destructs.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Roger
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      says:

      This all seems very on point to me. Again, I suspect the problem very often is that when some people hear “democracy,” they think of liberal, representative, checks-and-balances, Bill-of-Rights democracy, while others hearing the same word think of a certain decisionmaking process that is a component of the former but by no means the whole of it.

      I have to say the latter is more technically correct, and if we mean the former, we should say “liberal democracy” instead. It’s two extra syllables, it’s a readily identifiable institution set, and we do after all need a specific term for the decisionmaking process.Report

      • Avatar Herb in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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        says:

        I take your point, but it seems mighty quibbling. After all, if we’re talking “democracy” in the context of how the US government works, we can assume it’s a liberal democracy, just like if you’re talking about your pet cat, I can assume you’re talking about the domesticated variety.Report

        • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Herb
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          says:

          I don’t agree that it’s quibbling in the least. I can think of two fairly wide areas of discussion where a distinction between democracy and liberal democracy is hard to do without.

          The first concerns basic rights. We don’t put your freedom of religion up for a vote. That might be democratic, but it certainly wouldn’t be the liberal-democratic approach.

          The second concerns public choice theory. Almost no one I can think of in the public choice movement is actively against liberal democracy. There’s Hans-Hermann Hoppe, but he’s crazy, and there are a smattering of other anarcho-capitalists. But by and large, public choice theorists are supporters of liberal democracy… even while they do analyze and often criticize democracy as a decisionmaking process.

          I’d just add in passing that your analogy fails. When I talk about my pet cat, I may obviously mean the domesticated variety, but when scientists talk about cats, they will almost always give the species name… or at the very least mention that, yes, they did their research on domestic cats. Usually, they’ll then specify the breed. That’s what specialists do. They get specific.Report

          • Avatar MFarmer in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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            says:

            I think there is also a difference between the adjective democratic and the noun democracy. A democratic process in the political realm doesn’t necessarily mean the political system is a true democracy.Report

            • Avatar MFarmer in reply to MFarmer
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              says:

              I see now that you basically said this here:

              “1. First, I reject the too-easy conflation between “democracy” and “liberal democracy.” The former is a decisionmaking process, no more and no less. The latter is a form of government under which significant decisions are made via deliberative democracy, while some types of decisions remain out of reach of democratic (or any other) politics.”Report

          • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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            says:

            I agree that it’s an essential distinction, but it’s not the case that our (Constitutional) rights aren’t subject to votes. We know they are. (Their naturally-existing counterparts are a different story, but that’s a separate question from liberalism.) The entire Constitution is subject to a series of votes, and beyond that, it’s the product of some of the most authentic moments of democracy in the modern world: (http://www.amazon.com/Ratification-People-Debate-Constitution-1787-1788/dp/0684868547).

            In our system, liberalism actually is itself a choice arrived at by democracy. There could be other routes to liberalism, as Hayek suggests, but we didn’t take one of them.Report

            • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Michael Drew
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              says:

              Indeed. If Hayek is right, the common law was arrived at by a nondemocratic means, but still managed to approximate a lot of liberal values, as may be expected of other types of polycentric legal order.Report

    • Avatar Ben Wolf in reply to Roger
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      says:

      “My point is that what is important here are the dynamics of the system. Today the dynamic is regulatory/coercive bloat.”

      It might be the dynamic for some people, but your assertion is by no means universally shared. Blanket statements are for the most part useful only for stopping thought.Report

      • Avatar MFarmer in reply to Ben Wolf
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        says:

        Having a position stops thought?Report

      • Avatar Roger in reply to Ben Wolf
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        says:

        Hi Ben,

        Apologies as my desire is most certainly to stimulate thought — for myself and others. You are also right that it is a big, blanket statement that is not universally shared. Though I am unaware of any convincing rebuttals.

        Let me elaborate. Government coercion and interference with the free enterprise system — even for GOOD reasons — creates winners and losers. It creates privileged positions, free riders, rent seekers and bureaucrats to administer the system. Those benefitting tend to be smaller in number and/or known to each other as a concrete special interest group that can use the very benefits they gain from interference with the system to fund further interference in the system. The losers are often abstract or diffuse. They are — for example — future employees that have not yet been hired or future consumers or widespread tax payers hoping someone else pays. Special interest groups have much to lose if their privilege is lost and much to gain if their privilege is extended, yet in many cases there is no organized interest group opposing them. There are now countless such special interest groups seeking and acquiring coercive privileges/rents in modern societies. I can name dozens of really big ones, and I’ll bet you can too.

        When you add politicians and bureaucrats it gets MUCH worse. The politicians gain power and influence via the degree they influence the non-market distribution — the more the better. The bureaucrats are hired to address the problem, but their power and jobs depend in part upon the problem never being solved. Indeed, every bureaucrat tries to add staff and the best way to do this is by making cases that the problem is getting worse. Looking at the incentives, bureaucracies are actually better off if they do not solve the problem or subtly (indirectly) make it worse. They also grow over time as inefficiency and waste and rent seekers infiltrate the system. I assume you are familiar with the longer term trends in salaries, benefits, hiring and pensions with government employees? Or the cost effectiveness trends of government run education?

        Obviously, I am just oversimplifying arguments made by Mancur Olson, Cyril Parkinson and various Public Choice theorists.

        Circling back to Jason’s original post, democracies can justify coercion which limits productive win/win arrangements and even worse, which create win/lose situations. When the rules are simple, few and consistent this is probably not a big worry. It’s the rules of the game. As the interference becomes complex, large, and frequently changed, then the dynamic of the system changes. It no longer becomes rational to play the game, when the best payoffs came from manipulating the rules. Society spins into what I call Rule Wrestling. A zero sum dynamic that freezes up and destroys society. Why produce value when you can exploit value?

        What part of this — if any — do you disagree with?

        PS — It happens in non-democracies too.

        PPS — Choice, competition and a limitation on rationalized coercion are the best remedies to Rule Wrestling.Report

  15. Avatar E.C. Gach
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    says:

    Still making my way through the thread, but it appears that an easy simplification in the terminology and principles at work might be to collapse the category difference between “liberty” and “democracy,” and simply restate “liberty” as high threshold brand of democracy, i.e. things that require 2/3s majority, etc.

    The only difference between legislative laws and constitutional rights are the procedures for introducing them and the level of consensus needed to implement them.

    The Constitution after all is just a set of statues that require an unsual amount of consensus to alter/amend.

    So the real issues is probably how we decide what level of consensus certain issues require.

    For example, questions of concience, that is, what I believe or say/write, would require a high level of consensus to legislate upon, while issues regarding interstate commerce might require less, and things as simple as deciding speed limits might require only a simple majority.

    I think this helps clarify the positions, libertarian/democrat, as not oppositional but rather differing on the degree of a shared constraint: consensus.Report

    • Avatar Roger in reply to E.C. Gach
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      says:

      E.C.

      Great point. A higher level of consensus would inherently limit interference and social meddling to more important areas. A related concept is inherent expiration dates on regulation without higher levels of consensus.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Roger
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        says:

        I would just interject that institutional requirements for levels of assent above 50%+1 don’t dissolve democracy; in fact, they’re not even anti-democratic, especially when adopted by collective agreement. These are counter-majoritarian measures, not anti-democratic ones. They are a perfectly democratic way to structure democratic institutions. Democracy != 50%+1.Report

    • Avatar MFarmer in reply to E.C. Gach
      Ignored
      says:

      Just make it a little bit harder for the majority to tyrannize the minority. If they are serious tyrants, they’ll jump over a few more hoops. Tyrants aren’t worth their salt, if they aren’t willing to put forth the effort.Report

      • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to MFarmer
        Ignored
        says:

        With the current setup of the Senate and the way campaigns are funded, I’d argue the minority are being tyrannical of the majority.Report

        • Avatar MFarmer in reply to Jesse Ewiak
          Ignored
          says:

          I made that claim in a previous argument, that the ironic result of tyranny of the majority is a tyranny by a small minority. The “majority” is somewhat of a fiction — the hoi polloi get a few crumbs if they behave. When legal coercion is involved, and there are no enforced limits, it’s always a minority who manipulate their way to real power.

          But what you are saying about campaign financing is bogus — everyone should be free to campaign as much as they like, and all the evidence points to money failing over and over to seriously influence the outcome of elections — Ross Perot would have been president if money can buy an election. I think campaign ads are having a counter-effect now. I haven’t seen a good campaing ad in years — wasted money in the internet age, except to get name recognition and maybe make a distinction, but as far as influencing people to vote a certain way just because one candidate or party has more of them — I don’t think so.

          I don’t know what you mean by the set-up of the Senate.Report

          • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to MFarmer
            Ignored
            says:

            First, ninety-five percent of those who spend more in an election win. That’s numbers been constant plus or minus a few percent for the past few years.

            Second, I simply disagree. No, billionaires should not be able to set policy by buying politicians. Money isn’t speech, no matte what the Supreme Court says.

            Third, I’d point to the fact that Ross Perot was in 1st place until he went crazy in the summer of ’92 despite not being part of a major party that a billionaire can win a Presidential election.

            Fourth, if campaign ads don’t work, then how did people become convinced the ACA has death panels? Magic? Campaign ads may not be wonderful, but they can still change the narrative and anybody denying that is stuck in a fantasy world.

            Finally, my belief is that the Senate is an undemocratic institution that blocks the majority of the populace. Even barring the 60 vote threshold, 20% of the population can block 80% of the population thanks to the two Senators per state construction.Report

            • Avatar DarrenG in reply to Jesse Ewiak
              Ignored
              says:

              Fourth, if campaign ads don’t work, then how did people become convinced the ACA has death panels? Magic? Campaign ads may not be wonderful, but they can still change the narrative and anybody denying that is stuck in a fantasy world.

              I’d attribute this more to the prevalence of partisan media than campaign ads. Without the mighty Wurlitzer playing the tune 24 hours a day for days on end, campaign ads don’t have much impact (there seems to be some pretty solid political science behind this, too).Report

            • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Jesse Ewiak
              Ignored
              says:

              First, ninety-five percent of those who spend more in an election win. That’s numbers been constant plus or minus a few percent for the past few years.

              How much of this is simply the fact that incumbents get an automatic fundraising advantage? Assuming your numbers are correct, they are almost identical to the return rate of incumbents, so this may be a difficult set of variables to disaggregate.

              Once we’re done with that, we can ask whether a fundraising advantage is the cause — or the effect — of a relatively higher level of popularity. And when we’re done with that, we can ask why people seem to hate everyone in Congress except their own representative, which pretty much guarantees that almost everyone must be making a big, big mistake.Report

              • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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                says:

                I was going to say, “Citation needed”, but you beat me to it.Report

              • Avatar DarrenG in reply to Jason Kuznicki
                Ignored
                says:

                The CFI has done some good research on this. In particular their breakdown of spending on open House seats seems relevant:

                http://www.cfinst.org/pdf/vital/VitalStats_t4.pdfReport

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Jason Kuznicki
                Ignored
                says:

                How much of this is simply the fact that incumbents get an automatic fundraising advantage?

                That, and the fact that the incumbent normally starts with better name recognition, so their initial spending goes to reaffirming their existing self-definition, while the challenger’s initial spending goes just to making people aware some guy named Joe Jones is running for Congress.

                Roughly speaking, the data show that incumbents who outspend their challengers nearly always win (absent scandal or a really strong “throw the bums out” moment that may have no real direct relation to that particular bum) If challengers can outspend the incumbent, their chances rise to about even. Usually, though, challengers can’t outspend incumbents because they don’t have the established fundraising operations and long-established list of donors that an incumbent has.Report

            • Avatar MFarmer in reply to Jesse Ewiak
              Ignored
              says:

              Meg whitman, fiona what’shername — it doesn’t hold water.Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to MFarmer
                Ignored
                says:

                Two elections = Enough data, of cours.e

                Yes, bad candidates in elections in states no predisposed to their political tint have problems winning. I’d make the argument that the ability for both women to spend millions of dollars made the race closer than another candidate of the same views with less money.

                But, I’ll look to see if I can find info on open seat races, which would not have the incumbency advantage.Report

              • Avatar DarrenG in reply to MFarmer
                Ignored
                says:

                …unless you look at the actual data rather than flawed anecdotes.

                Boxer out-raised Fiorina for the general election, so that’s just a bad example all around.

                Whitman did out-spend Brown by a ton, but it’s not hard to find many factors that put that race into the 5% category rather than the 95% (Whitman was a *horrible* candidate in many respects).Report

              • Avatar MFarmer in reply to DarrenG
                Ignored
                says:

                http://www.campaignfreedom.org/doclib/20091103_doesmoneybuyelections2008.pdf\

                This basically states that while the first dollar impact is good for challengers, the millionth is not really effectiveReport

              • Avatar DarrenG in reply to MFarmer
                Ignored
                says:

                Yes, there are diminishing returns to campaign spending (another reason Whitman’s huge advantage wasn’t that helpful beyond a certain point), but the fact that spending on House races has significant impact up to $1MM in an era where many winners didn’t spend that much even in the most competitive races supports Jesse’s point.Report

              • Avatar MFarmer in reply to DarrenG
                Ignored
                says:

                Or, the most popular candidates attract the most money. If not, then the Koch Brothers could buy a libertarian government, yet there’s only a few libertarians in influential government positions, and they are questionable. If there’s a problem with attracting money, it’s because a candidate promises favors to large donors. Heres’s another reason for a limited government — money problem solved. But, I don’t think this is what you have in mind. As long as the feeding trough in DC is a goldmine, influence will find its way into politics, regardless of any campaign finance laws — the feeding trough is the problem not money in campaigns. In fact, when Americans become fed up with the Game we’ll compete with the rich, rent-seeking donors and elect representatives who will eliminate the feeding trough. Limiting the private sector’s ability to raise money and contribute to candidates or campaigns for certain political ideas makes it easier for inside fixes within the political realm. The status quo will love it, as will media.Report

              • Avatar wardsmith in reply to DarrenG
                Ignored
                says:

                Whitman could have won a lot of states, but not in Blue Cali.Report

              • Avatar DarrenG in reply to wardsmith
                Ignored
                says:

                This would be the same “Blue Cali” that’s had Republican governors for 28 out of the last 40 years (and the two Democrats during that time are Jerry Brown, twice, and the guy we recalled from office in order to elect Schwarzenegger)?Report

  16. Avatar Freddie
    Ignored
    says:

    Gotta eat or die. Gotta work to eat. The definition of coercion.Report

  17. Avatar wardsmith
    Ignored
    says:

    “Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote.” Benjamin Franklin.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley in reply to wardsmith
      Ignored
      says:

      Wardsmith,

      Ironically, I’ve seen that quote attributed to both Thomas Jefferson and Karl Marx. Now Franklin. My that quote sure does get around to filling a lot of different mouths!Report

      • Avatar wardsmith in reply to James Hanley
        Ignored
        says:

        Blame the Internet

        This guy says no. I’m too old and addled to know whether I read it in the original sources.

        Here’s a variant that is rather amusing.

        1) A Democracy: Three wolves and a sheep voting on dinner.

        2) A Republic: The flock gets to vote for which wolves vote on dinner.

        3) A Constitutional Republic: Voting on dinner is expressly forbidden, and the sheep are armed.

        4) Federal Government: The means by which the sheep will be fooled into voting for a Democracy.

        5) Freedom: Two very hungry wolves looking for dinner and finding a very well-informed and well-armed sheep.Report

        • Avatar James Hanley in reply to wardsmith
          Ignored
          says:

          Heh, I just found it amusing that on the internet you can buy two t-shirts, one with Marx saying it and one with Jefferson saying it. If I wore t-shirts to work I’d buy them just to freak people out. And for all I know, it actually was Franklin who said it!

          I’m sure it says something about me that in your second version, 3 and 5 sound most attractive to me.Report

          • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to James Hanley
            Ignored
            says:

            I see you beat me to it. The word “lunch” was not common in American English until after Franklin was dead, among other reasons to doubt it.

            I have a presentation for the Cato interns where I show them this quote, actually, by way of warning them to cite sources. I found it attributed to Lenin, too.Report

        • Avatar Chris in reply to wardsmith
          Ignored
          says:

          I find it interesting that it was probably written by a contemporary libertarian, and then attributed to a “founding father.” I find it interesting not because the quote sounds like anything Franklin might have said (it doesn’t), but because of the way libertarians often view their intellectual relationship with the founding fathers.Report

          • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Chris
            Ignored
            says:

            True. Granted the Framers of the Constitution were pretty darn concerned about tyranny, but they were equally concerned about anarchy, and the Constitution is an attempt to strike a balance between the two–allocating enough power to prevent the one, but not enough to create a risk of the other.

            That general concept does fit within the libertarian view, but primarily because libertarianism is rather broad. The more radically libertarian a person is–the closer they flirt with wholesale anti-governmentalism–the less they resemble the Framers, who clearly would want to have nothing to do with them.Report

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